Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 9
This is an episode about power, and its ability to blind us if we don’t stay true to what’s truly important: our hearts. Our Neighborhood Lawyer may not be rich, and he might have to recruit clients by advertising in the streets, but he’s certainly got the most people around him—and maybe that’s the most valuable currency of all.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Deul-ho sits on a theater stage, waiting quietly while the kindergarten’s horrible principal enters and makes her way down the steps toward him. She stares at him with contempt and screams: “Kneel!” Quietly, he kneels before her, head hung as she looks down on him in condescending fury.
We jump back one week earlier, and Dae-soo’s sister Hyo-jin is still on trial for abusing little Seo-yeon. Seo-yeon’s mother apologizes to Hyo-jin for wrongly accusing her, but Hyo-jin tells her that she’s fine—all she wants is for Seo-yeon’s mother to take better care of her daughter. Deul-ho, meanwhile, makes faces at Seo-yeon until she smiles, and he promises that they’ll play together again soon. So cute.
Deul-ho catches up with the principal, who looks mighty unhappy as she hurries away from the courtroom. Deul-ho accuses her of sneaking away, telling her that she’s one of the top three nastiest people he’s ever met—and that’s saying a lot, considering all the nasty people he meets in his line of work.
The principal isn’t one to back down, however, and she sneers at him, asking if he really thinks he’s won. Then she insults his lame taste in fashion: “If you really win this trial,” she says, “I will personally buy you a new suit.” Boy, I hope she eats those words.
Ji-wook returns to the prosecutor’s office in a huff, furious at his office manager for investigating the case so poorly—he told him to pay special attention when facing off with Jo Deul-ho!
Back at Dae-soo’s office, Deul-ho, Ae-ra, and Eun-jo plan their next line of action. Ae-ra will secure the documents of the filed complaints from the ward office, and Eun-jo will head to Seo-yeon’s hospital and get her medical records. Eun-jo is also to recruit any hospital staff that could possibly testify, while Ae-ra is to recruit the school kitchen’s ex-employees. Dae-soo offers to go with Deul-ho to persuade the parents, too, but Deul-ho tells him to stay at the office.
Deul-ho meets up with three mothers of the kindergartners, who recognize him as Chef Deul-ho who fed the school’s garbage porridge to the principal last time. They are all indignant that the principal could be so corrupt, shocked that Hyo-jin was innocent the whole time. Deul-ho agrees—they need to sue the principal and give her what she deserves.
Meanwhile, the principal meets with her own legal team at Geum San—she wants to file for defamation against Hyo-jin. When Hae-kyung asks why she wants Geum San’s aid, the principal’s explanation is simple: Geum San is the biggest law firm in Korea, and besides, she’s close with the managing partner, Attorney Jang (Hae-kyung’s father). Attorney Kim says that he’s already been ordered to take good care of the principal.
Hae-kyung, however, doesn’t seem ecstatic about taking a child abuser’s side, and asks the principal if she really fed rotten food to the children. The principal insists that it’s all part of the opposing counsel’s plan—the school cook made one mistake, and it was blown out of proportion, she swears it!
The principal adds that she also wants to report Deul-ho to the police for daring to trespass into her school and fool her into hiring them, just to trick her in court. She can’t wait to get back at Deul-ho for his crimes. That seems to get Hae-kyung’s attention, but she doesn’t say anything, and she assigns Attorney Kim to iron out the details with her.
Eun-jo meets with one of the nurses at Seo-yeon’s hospital. Coincidentally, the nurse knows all about the school because her daughter attended it for a while, but got sick from eating their rotten meals. She promises to testify in court as well. Hooray!
When Deul-ho returns to Dae-soo’s office, it’s overrun with small children from the school. They cheer and flock to “Mister Lawyer,” attacking him with foam toys. Dae-soo explains that the kindergarten has closed down, and no one can contact them. Meanwhile, the mothers are annoyed because they have to go to work but they have nowhere to leave their kids. The parents finally decide to just leave their children at Dae-soo’s office while they go to work. Um, okay.
Eun-jo calls to tell Deul-ho that she’s secured a witness from the hospital, but Deul-ho is too busy juggling children to care. He tells her to hurry back, but Eun-jo has an errand to run at the bank first. The teller informs her that her credit card account has been frozen because she hasn’t paid her credit card bills or the interest on her student loans. It’ll also be difficult get any further loans because she’s recently become unemployed.
Eun-jo wonders what good being a lawyer is when she doesn’t earn anything. She tries to call a friend to borrow some money, but has no luck. Walking down the street, she notices a part-time job request in the window of a sandwich store.
Ae-ra, meanwhile, meets up with a woman named Lee Yeon-soo, the former cook at the kindergarten. Ae-ra asks her to testify to the fact that the school made her use spoiled food to make porridge. She agrees, if at least to make up for her sins of feeding innocent children that garbage food.
But the prosecution isn’t laying low, either. This time, Attorney Kim comes to visit Ji-wook at his office, offering a stack of files as a “gift.” Ji-wook begins to brush off his corrupt antics, but when Attorney Kim clarifies that the gift could help him in his fight against Deul-ho, Ji-wook can’t resist.
On the fourth day of the trial, the children file into the courtroom, waving happily at “Mister Lawyer” and Hyo-jin from their seats. Deul-ho questions his first witness, the cook that Ae-ra recruited. She admits to using the children’s leftovers to make porridge… but when Deul-ho asks if the principal forced her to do it, she denies it and says she made it of her own accord.
Deul-ho is stunned by the unexpected answer, but the ajumma goes on: She was the one who used the leftover ingredients, and she was fired by the principal because of her mistake. In shock, Deul-ho demands to know whether she was bought off by the principal, but once again, the ajumma insists that the principal is without fault. Ji-wook looks confused as well, but in the back of the court, Attorney Kim smiles smugly to himself.
The same thing happens with the nurse, who insists that she has no way of knowing whether the sick children that she treated became sick from the school’s food, or food from elsewhere. The witness from the ward office also denies having ever received a complaint about the school lunches, even though just the day before, he had clearly told Ae-ra that there were several complaints.
Next, Ji-wook requests permission to call a witness who is voluntarily present in the audience—someone named “Hwang Geum-nyeo,” who worked as a cook in the school for a short while. Granted permission, Ji-wook shows everyone Ae-ra’s fake resume, which she used to get hired at the kindergarten. Uh-oh.
Ae-ra is called to the stand and reluctantly introduces herself as “Hwang Geum-nyeo,” but under threat of perjury, she has no choice but to tell the truth. She admits that she has no license to cook, and that she is the office manager to Deul-ho, and thus created a false identity for employment at the school. Ji-wook points out that as a cook, she would have plenty of opportunity to fabricate evidence against the school.
Dae-soo is next to be called to the stand, and is also forced to tell the truth: His name is Bae Dae-soo, he is a loan shark, and he shares an office with Deul-ho. Ji-wook clarifies that he applied to be a bus driver at the school, despite having nothing to do with it, because of his ulterior motives to help Lawyer Jo Deul-ho.
Deul-ho gets up to cross-examine Dae-soo. Deul-ho and Dae-soo begin to pretend that Dae-soo’s childhood dream was always to become a bus driver because he loves the color yellow, but Ji-wook immediately objects, saying that they’re making ridiculous claims. With no other choice, Deul-ho asks Dae-soo what his connection to the kindergarten is, and Dae-soo explains that Hyo-jin is his younger sister, which is why he cares so much.
Deul-ho expects himself to be next, and imagines appearing on the witness stand in his bus driver persona and uniform, much to his team’s embarrassment. But Deul-ho snaps out of the fantasy when Ji-wook calls Eun-jo to the stand instead, with CCTV evidence of her trespassing into the school. Ji-wook asks why she was at school, and Eun-jo says she received a call that Seo-yeon was there alone—from Deul-ho.
He asks if she was there to talk to Seo-yeon in preparation for the case, and whether she was blindly following Deul-ho’s orders, even breaking the law to do it. Eun-jo, however, turns to look straight at Deul-ho as she answers: “No. I did it because I wanted to do it… because I wanted to help him.”
Deul-ho, thankfully, has one last piece of evidence. During his closing statement, he explains: Because Hyo-jin was fired for reporting the food, he went to the school to see for himself the state of the meals, and he asked the children to draw pictures of the food they ate.
On cue, the children pull their notebooks out of their backpacks, holding their food pictures above their heads: trays with one piece of kimchi, trays of nothing at all, even a live chicken because their chicken soup had so little chicken meat in it, that she figured the bird was alive somewhere in the world. He accuses the principal of child abuse, and insists that their job as law enforcers is to reveal the truth.
Ji-wook, however, has his own closing statement to give. His final piece of evidence: a settlement agreement written one month ago, between Hyo-jin and a parent. The agreement was written because Hyo-jin was allegedly violent against one of the children, and when the parent offered to settle, she rushed to do so. Although the parent did withdraw the charge, Hyo-jin has a history of being reported for child abuse and violence. Ji-wook argues that such a person was absolutely justified in being fired.
The crew walks out of the courtroom with their heads hung, bickering with each other over everything that’s gone wrong. To make it worse, when they get back to the office, it’s filled with parents and children, furious that the school is still shut down—they can’t get any work done or open their shops without the children at school. They complain that reporting the principal is doing more harm than good.
Later, Hyo-jin tells Deul-ho and Eun-jo about a boy who always bullied Seo-yeon. While trying to stop him from taking Seo-yeon’s doll, Hyo-jin accidentally pushed him to the ground, and the bully’s mother filed charges. Although Hyo-jin agreed to settle because the principal told her to, the only thing that’s left is evidence of the settlement, and since the bully has emigrated, there’s no way to contact them.
Resigned, Eun-jo sighs that it’s not looking good, especially with the principal’s meticulously created persona of an angelic child-lover. Deul-ho, however, is set on tearing off her mask.
That mask is strong, though. The three moms that Deul-ho recruited to testify now sit around the principal, begging her to reopen the school. But the principal tells them that she’s been too emotionally traumatized, and that they should look into another place; besides, weren’t they all accusing her of being a horrible child abuser just a few days ago?
The moms grovel for her mercy, until finally she sings: “Well, if that attorney kneels before me and apologizes, then I’ll reconsider.” Oh no.
That night, an army of moms invade Dae-soo’s office, and demand that Deul-ho apologize to the principal on his knees. They say it can’t be that hard—after all, he’s the one who drove the situation to this state! They even kneel themselves, demanding that he sacrifice his dignity just once for the children.
After they leave, Deul-ho flips through Soo-bin’s notebooks, reading about how she was so happy to get the role of the princess in the school play. Eun-jo, who was hired at the sandwich shop, is working hard when she receives a phone call from Ae-ra—something has happened to Deul-ho.
Deul-ho sits on the stage of a theater, where he waits for the principal to arrive. He stands to greet her, and she congratulates him for coming to his senses. She asks why he asked her to meet all the way here, and he explains that he’s never knelt in front of anyone before. She screams at him to kneel and recite all the things he’s done wrong.
Deul-ho: “A pathetic attorney like me dared to disrespect you, a god-like principal, even though you were only thinking of the children when you put leftovers in porridge for them to eat.” He admits that no one should tell her what to do with her government subsidies or how to organize her budget, and he should never have tried to file charges against her—no one there would listen to a pathetic, lowly thing like him, anyway. The principal laughs in delight: “Of course not! Do you know how much money they get from me?”
Deul-ho asks her to reopen the school—she can do whatever she wants, as long as she reopens the school. The principal: “No.” She says she’s going to send Deul-ho to jail, too. Deul-ho asks her again and again with the same answer, until he finally gets fed up and stands, calling her “ajumma.”
Deul-ho tells her that she shouldn’t have fed garbage to little kids, and she screams back, “Why can’t I? It’s all mine!” She calls the kindergarten her kingdom, and herself the queen—the children are hers to control. She stalks toward him, armed with a pen for his disrespect, until Deul-ho escapes behind the curtain of the theater.
The curtain is swept away to reveal: Deul-ho and his gang, the army of parents, and even Ji-wook, all staring at her in disgust. She backs away as the moms scream at her—how dare they call their children her toys? They accuse her of wearing a mask this whole time.
Ji-wook’s men step forward to apprehend her, dragging her out of the room. The moms all thank Deul-ho for saving their children. Deul-ho turns to Ji-wook and asks whether he enjoyed the play. Ji-wook: “The plot was fine, but the actor was really awful.” Haha.
Ji-wook sits in the car and thinks back to his conversation with his father after a loss against Deul-ho. Chief Prosecutor Shin hadn’t been upset: a prosecutor handles a dozen cases a day, while a lawyer only focuses on one. With an opponent as stubborn as Deul-ho, he shouldn’t feel bad about losing once.
But, says Chief Prosecutor Shin, Ji-wook’s loss will only let Deul-ho gain attention and climb back up the ladder again. Ji-wook can’t let Deul-ho take the spotlight away from him again. Ji-wook laughs to himself: it seems Deul-ho, once again, has done just that. Chief Prosecutor Shin suggests bringing a case against the principal himself before Deul-ho beats him to it.
Sure enough, at home, Soo-bin runs to her mom, showing her the news article with Dad’s picture. Hae-kyung notes that Uncle Ji-wook is there, too, but Soo-bin only has eyes for Dad: “He really is like Superman!” She wonders if she should be a lawyer when she grows up, too, as cool as her dad. Hae-kyung points out that her mom is a lawyer, too. Soo-bin: “I think Dad is a little bit cooler.”
Deul-ho visits the principal in prison, where she’s probably going to be sentenced to at least five years for child abuse. She isn’t happy to see him, but he’s only here to give her a present—a stack of cards from the children.
That night, the principal sits in her cell while everyone else sleeps. She opens the cards and tears up as she reads the sweet, adorable words of the children, asking her to come back soon, because they miss her. There’s even one from Seo-yeon: “Principal, I miss you. I’ll smile every day now. Come back soon.” Ugh, tears.
The next day, Deul-ho and his gang receive a letter from the principal, declaring her resignation from her position as director of all five of her schools, and her recommendation of Hyo-jin as the new acting director. Yes!
That night, they drink together in Dae-soo’s office, and Dae-soo toasts to the three attorneys—Deul-ho, Ae-ra, and Eun-jo—for their hard work. They toast to becoming the best law firm in Korea, and clink their glasses with a cheer.
Drunk Eun-jo finds drunk Deul-ho outside the office after the festivities. Eun-jo begins to go home, but then spins around and sits next to Deul-ho, asking why he always tells her to go away—she graduated from a great law school, and got a job at the best law firm in the country, and… well, not much else. But she was always smart and pretty, and she thought that if she became a lawyer, life would be rosy-pink and perfect.
Deul-ho, however, is not paying any attention. He calls Soo-bin, and coos into the phone, “Baby? I want to see you every day! I looove you!” Eun-jo, of course, thinks he’s talking to her and gets all flustered and embarrassed, burying her face in her hands—until Deul-ho says: “Soo-bin! I love you!” LOL, embarrassing.
The next morning, Dae-soo and Ae-ra wake up cuddling on the sofa. Deul-ho, meanwhile, wakes up in Soo-bin’s room, his arms around his beloved daughter.
OMG, they are so cute. Deul-ho and Soo-bin’s storyline are the best part of this drama, not just for us but for Deul-ho, too. It’s clear that her unwavering loyalty and trust in him impact him more than anything else, enough to outweigh his defeat at Michael’s escape out of the country. Soo-bin is an incredibly important influence on Deul-ho, and I’m particularly glad that even Hae-kyung recognizes that. In the same vein, I really appreciate how the drama continues to show us the characters’ motivations and their character development in small doses. It’s easy to hate Ji-wook, for example, for the way he consistently takes the side of the abuser rather than the victim—that is, he’s always on the wrong side of the moral issue. It’s been shown, however, that he’s not heartless, and he seemed to take genuine satisfaction in putting the principal in prison this episode.
It does seem like the drama is taking these people (Hae-kyung, Ji-wook, Eun-jo) on a journey of moral self-discovery, realizing what, exactly, is important to them in terms of their humanity—and hopefully, Ji-wook will follow on that path as well and open his eyes to see that he is only helping the world become more corrupt. Is it so important to win cases and have spacious homes—or to know that a child, somewhere, is going to a safe and loving school? Is it important to have your name in the news as a hotshot prosecutor—or to know your daughter is proud of you? It’s a lesson that Eun-jo has learned in quitting her job at Geum San, and even though she’s struggling with it financially, I’m glad that she’s finding little doses of genuine happiness by spending time with our chaotic gang of do-gooders.
The strength of the show, then, definitely lies in its depiction of the warmest parts of humanity—that no one is hopelessly evil. Even the main villain of these past few episodes, the principal, did a 180 in the last minutes to show a kind of redemption that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Granted, it was a rather messily-written and unrealistically sudden change in character, but I don’t mind because of what the show is trying to accomplish: showing us that everyone has a heart. It’s a fact that is demonstrated in many of its minor characters, like the townspeople from Yong-soo’s restaurant neighborhood and the moms in the kindergarten case, but also one that is slowly, steadily, and satisfyingly being established in its main characters, as well.
It does seem like the writing quality is sacrificed a bit to prove this point—there have been several instances of jarringly messy writing in order to get the drama where it needs to go. The characters, especially the minor ones, tend to behave in unrealistically two-dimensional ways. It’s understandable that the writers don’t want, and honestly don’t have time, to investigate each and every complex mind—but after a while, it’s lazy and the world feels unrealistic. For example, in what world do children’s parents just leave their precious kids at a random lawyer’s office because they have to go to work? How can a rationally thinking audience so quickly change their opinions in the courtroom? In my opinion, that was the weakest part of this episode, and their loopy decisions were so radical that it actually distracted me from the main plot.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this case, especially how the children’s innocence reminds me of what we can be: forgiving and hopeful. Their presence also provided plenty of parallels to Deul-ho and Soo-bin’s relationship of love and consideration, reminding us that the most important things in our lives are the people around us. That kind of solidarity, both idealistically and physically, is always powerful in this kind of story, and the image of all of the parents, Deul-ho’s gang, and Ji-wook’s side—opposite ends of a magnet—standing together behind the curtain was a beautiful thing to see. Knowing that Deul-ho’s best work is done outside of the courtroom, the way he shone in the theater right after failing in the courtroom tells us that there is justice to be found wherever we are in the world, and we’ll do our best to get there.
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 8
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 7
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 6
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 5
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 4
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 3
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 2
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 1