Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 20 (Final)
A feel-good conclusion to a feel-good show. Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho has always been a simple, comfort food kind of drama, and the fact that it knew that and embraced it was both its greatest strength and biggest flaw. Still, all our characters have grown miles and have learned to stand on their own, ready to set out into the world guided by their own moral compasses and found families. And you’ll never hear me fault a show for that.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
After the hearing, Deul-ho assures the press that Chairman Jung’s lobby list and the rest of the evidence will undergo a thorough investigation of validity. Deul-ho adds, however, that Chief Prosecutor Shin should, as a matter of human decency, admit to his wrongdoings and withdraw from public office immediately. Another reporter asks why Chairman Jung confessed to his own son’s crimes during the hearing, but Deul-ho only takes the opportunity to state his heartfelt thanks to Chairman Jung for his courage and justice.
He pushes past the reporters before they can ask any more questions. His loyal team follows close behind, gushing praise at his skill in the courtroom—they’re sure that Chief Prosecutor Shin is done for now. Deul-ho, however, tells them that there’s still one more thing to do. On cue, Ae-ra receives a phone call from Detective Song.
Ae-ra heads over to see the detective, who is waiting at the police station with a very unhappy man in glasses, whom we learn is named Choi Hyun-tae. Detective Song explains that Deul-ho had called him earlier to report the location of the murderer, and the detective was able to arrest him for the murder of Il-gu and attempted murder of Deul-ho.
Ae-ra is surprised that Detective Song would so willingly follow Deul-ho’s orders, and the detective begrudgingly admits that Deul-ho may be crazy, but he’s no liar. The suspect’s phone, meanwhile, is chock full of the necessary evidence.
Chief Prosecutor Shin arrives at the Prosecutor’s Office only to be swarmed by reporters asking about Deul-ho’s performance. Chief Prosecutor Shin insists that he has been nothing but an upright public official for thirty years, and Deul-ho’s testimony was an insult both to the Prosecutor’s Office and to him. He promises that he will put Deul-ho in his place through the law.
Once free of the reporters, Chief Prosecutor Shin orders his men to review the evidence and testimony from the hearing so that they can confidently act like they were forged. Behind him, Ji-wook watches his father in disappointment.
Chief Prosecutor Shin receives a phone call from the Prosecutor General, who chews him out for his humiliation of the Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor General informs him that he’s about to meet with the Attorney General to formulate a plan of action out of this mess, and Chief Prosecutor Shin meekly asks for his help.
It’s not looking good for the chief prosecutor, and it only gets worse when Ji-wook storms in, demanding answers. He asks if the evidence from the hearing was true, but Chief Prosecutor Shin isn’t interested in the truth: “One wrong move and the whole thing will crumble. We have to stop it now!”
But Ji-wook reminds him that people have died for this—he no longer has confidence that he can help his father with his crimes. Chief Prosecutor Shin coldly snaps at him to stay out of it then, and Ji-wook shouts back: “Fine—I’ll stay out of it for you!” Finally.
Attorney Kim watches the news with a grim look on his face, shutting it off moments before Hae-kyung walks in. She asks what he’s going to do now—if Chief Prosecutor Shin fails to become promoted, Attorney Kim will be left high and dry. Attorney Kim shoots back that the investigation results aren’t out yet—the evidence may be found to be forged, and besides, it’s not like he has some special connection to the chief prosecutor.
Hae-kyung smirks at his bullshit, citing rumors that he’d been telling their equity partners that he should become the next Managing Partner of Geum San because of his close relationship with the upcoming chief prosecutor. Attorney Kim brushes off her accusation, predicting that Hae-kyung can’t be the new Managing Partner either, since she’s related to Attorney Jang and won’t be any help in cleaning up the firm’s image. Hae-kyung: “Don’t aim for Geum San so lightly. It’s not a place that a two-faced schemer like you can be tempted by.” She tells him never to come back to her office again.
Hae-kyung receives a call from Deul-ho, who tells her not to worry about the likes of Attorney Kim—after they beat Chief Prosecutor Shin, he’ll be gone forever.
In Chairman Jung’s hospital room, Michael throws a tantrum in his typical Michael way, screaming at his unresponsive, invalid father to call a press conference and declare him innocent. When the chairman’s secretary asks Michael to let the ill chairman rest, Michael turns his accusations on him.
Deul-ho waltzes in at that moment, interrupting Michael’s tirade with two straight punches to the face. “The first one was for your father,” he says. “The second was for all the innocent people you wronged.” Michael screams at Deul-ho to cut it out, but Deul-ho is merciless: “For every one of my questions that you don’t answer from now on, you’ll get thirty more hits.”
Michael trembles at his words, scared into obedience. Deul-ho asks if Michael has figured out why the chairman confessed to Michael’s crimes. Michael clearly doesn’t, so Deul-ho explains: “Because you’re his son. Even though you’re pathetic, you’re still his son. He tried to protect you for your crimes, but you became even worse garbage—so he finally realized that this was the wrong way to love.” Oof.
Michael has enough of a conscience to be shocked at that; when he looks to the chairman, he only closes his eyes in confirmation. Deul-ho tells Michael to turn himself in and turn over a new leaf, and Michael scurries out of the room before Deul-ho can hit him again.
Deul-ho sits with Chairman Jung and expresses his regret for his illness, asking him to get well soon and show his shouting figure one more time—this time, as a respectable businessman. He tells him to ask for Il-gu’s forgiveness, and thanks him for having the courage to testify in court. The chairman still can’t speak, but Deul-ho reaches out to take the chairman’s hand. They stay like that, sharing a long moment of understanding.
Michael sprints through the halls of the hospital, screaming into his phone for someone to pick him up and get him out of here. Thankfully, his path is cut off by Ji-wook and his men, who arrest him for the murder of No Kwang-soo and the abuse of his corpse. Michael begs for “Ji-wook hyung’s” understanding, but Ji-wook reminds him not to call him that, looking thoroughly disgusted.
Chief Prosecutor Shin watches the news of Michael Jung’s arrest in fury. When he receives a phone call from Choi Hyun-tae, the chief prosecutor growls at him for failing to do his job properly—he’d told him to leave the country, he snaps, so why the hell is he calling?
But instead of Choi Hyun-tae, the chief prosecutor is greeted by Deul-ho’s voice. He watches in shock as Deul-ho strolls into his office, thanking him for leaving that one last piece of evidence—he’d recorded those words. He informs him that the police are already investigating Choi Hyun-tae for murder.
Biting back tears, Deul-ho asks the chief prosecutor why he had to kill Il-gu—didn’t he feel sorry for him? “Did you want to become Prosecutor General even if you had to kill me?” he demands. “Was that measly paper certificate of Prosecutor General so important to you?”
Chief Prosecutor Shin tells him to stop spouting nonsense and get out, but Deul-ho is prepared. He plays the recorded voice files of conversations between Chief Prosecutor Shin and Choi Hyun-tae, i.e. hard evidence of Chief Prosecutor Shin’s plans. Deul-ho notes how untrustworthy the chief prosecutor must have been for Hyun-tae to record all of these conversations as insurance. Choi Hyun-tae has already confessed to the police—the chief prosecutor has no choice but to turn himself in. Chief Prosecutor Shin watches him in despair.
Ji-wook sits alone in his office, reflecting on Deul-ho’s words that he must apply his conviction of justice to everyone equally—even if that includes his own father. Eun-jo drops by to provide him with the evidence Deul-ho presented during the hearing, including Choi Hyun-tae’s recordings of Chief Prosecutor Shin ordering the murders of Il-gu and Deul-ho. Eun-jo relays that Deul-ho wants Ji-wook to determine Chief Prosecutor Shin’s fate—it could be Chief Prosecutor Shin’s last shred of dignity to be arrested by his son, rather than by another officer.
Back at Dae-soo’s office, Deul-ho treats his wounds from Choi Hyun-tae’s murder attempt. Dae-soo scolds Deul-ho for always putting his life on the line, but is relieved at his foresight—apparently, Deul-ho had predicted that something like this might happen, so he’d worn a sandbag just in case. Deul-ho mulls over how Chief Prosecutor Shin was seriously prepared to kill another human being for the title of Prosecutor General, and sighs that Chief Prosecutor Shin has gone completely mad for power.
Ji-wook, on the other hand, addresses the problem with a bottle of soju or three. Eun-jo finds him at a pojangmacha and joins him, telling him that this time, she’s here to buy him a drink—not on Deul-ho’s orders. Ji-wook isn’t in the state of mind for small talk, however, and asks Eun-jo whether she could arrest her father if she were in his shoes.
He explains that his father had always been his role model—but somewhere along the way, the chief prosecutor had ceased to be that admirable figure. Eun-jo insists that if Ji-wook stays at his father’s side, perhaps Chief Prosecutor Shin could become that great man again. He laughs in awkwardness, and she guesses that he doesn’t have any friends—Deul-ho had told her that he’d always been too busy studying or lawyering to make friends or date.
Eun-jo tells him that if she were in his shoes, she couldn’t arrest her father—but Ji-wook is different, and she knows he can do it.
In his office, Chief Prosecutor Shin thinks back to his relationship with Deul-ho through the years—how he’d been a promising and honest young rookie, always hardworking and earnest. Deul-ho grew up to stand on his own, however, and strayed further and further from Chief Prosecutor Shin’s own corrupt path.
Chief Prosecutor Shin holds a press conference to withdraw his candidacy for Prosecutor General. Well, that was fast. He asserts that the Prosecutor General should be a clean and honest citizen; as a public official under suspicion of corruption, he no longer believes himself to have the necessary qualifications. He promises to receive a thorough investigation.
The gang watches the news in both triumph and relief. Deul-ho commends them all for their hard work, and suggests that it’s time to return to being Neighborhood Lawyer. Dae-soo immediately chases Deul-ho for his rent money.
At Geum San, a group of men enter Hae-kyung’s office and offer their apologies for misunderstanding the situation—they’d all fallen for Attorney Kim’s lies. Hae-kyung guesses that they’re crawling back to her now that Chief Prosecutor Shin is facing defeat, but they assert the contrary: they, too, honestly believe that Geum San must change to survive. Our Attorney Kim, meanwhile, faces the cold shoulder from everyone at Geum San.
Chief Prosecutor Shin meets with the Prosecutor General, who tells him that the higher-ups have instructed him to conclude Chief Prosecutor Shin’s investigation as soon as possible. But Chief Prosecutor Shin is now ready to own up to his crimes rather than cover them up; besides, it would reflect badly on the Prosecutor’s Office if they were revealed to have a part in Chief Prosecutor Shin’s corruption. He asks the Prosecutor General for a fair trial, but with one final request—that Ji-wook be put in charge of his investigation and trial.
The Prosecutor General expresses his doubts, knowing that Ji-wook is his son, but Chief Prosecutor Shin has full faith that Ji-wook is the best person for the job.
As expected, Ji-wook accepts the position. Chief Prosecutor Shin is waiting for him in his office, looking upon his name plate one last time. When Ji-wook arrives to escort him, he goes with him freely.
In the interrogation room, Ji-wook assures his father that he won’t go easy on him. When he begins his investigation, however, he is overwhelmed with emotion and demands why he did it—he could have become Prosecutor General without resorting to these corrupt means.
But Chief Prosecutor Shin thinks otherwise: “The world isn’t so easy.” He tells Ji-wook to use him as a stepping stone to higher success; though his corrupt father may be a disadvantage to him now, he can build his name as a trustworthy prosecutor in the long run by being the one to put him behind bars. That was why he’d asked for Ji-wook to be the investigator on the case.
Chief Prosecutor Shin is thoroughly investigated, and as expected, Ji-wook becomes the talk of the town. Eun-jo and Deul-ho listen to the news in the car, but Deul-ho looks on with a pensive, bittersweet look on his face, preoccupied.
Hae-kyung, meanwhile, is promoted to Managing Partner of Geum San, much to Attorney Kim’s chagrin. She accepts the position, asserting that Geum San must become the firm that helps the vulnerable little people, too.
Attorney Kim seeks her out in her office afterward, meekly offering an apology for his recent behavior. In response, Hae-kyung asks for Attorney Kim’s help in changing Geum San. Relieved, he insists that he’ll do anything to assist Hae-kyung to the best of his ability. Hae-kyung: “Leave Geum San.” Mic drop.
Attorney Kim does an immediate one-eighty, telling her that he raised Geum San to its fame, and he won’t leave of his own will. He accuses Hae-kyung of terminating employees without cause—but Deul-ho and Eun-jo barge in, begging to differ. Deul-ho reminds him that he still has the USB that Attorney Kim tried to steal from Deul-ho’s office, and Eun-jo is an eyewitness. With evidence of theft and aiding in Dae Hwa’s slush fund, there’s plenty of cause for termination. Defeated, Attorney Kim shuffles out.
With the evil vanquished, Deul-ho presents Hae-kyung with a congratulatory bouquet for her promotion. Eun-jo gaily excuses herself to give them a private moment, and he gets even more awkward. Hae-kyung is more emotionally adept, and thanks him for supporting her through all of this.
Hae-kyung invites Deul-ho to come with her to visit her father in prison. Ex-Attorney Jang looks healthy, if still uncomfortable in his inmate uniform, but receives news of Hae-kyung’s promotion with pride. He asks Deul-ho to take good care of Hae-kyung, but if they’re going to get back together, they’d better do it while he’s still incarcerated: “If I’m out, I might oppose you again.” Haha. Deul-ho, however, assures him that they’re better off as friends.
At home, Eun-jo and Ae-ra pamper themselves with face masks and gossip. Eun-jo teases Ae-ra about looking good for Dae-soo (to which Ae-ra insists, “I already have someone else in my heart—Song Joong-ki!”), and Ae-ra accuses Eun-jo right back about always praising and worrying about Ji-wook. Eun-jo’s every attempt to explain herself digs her in a deeper hole in Ae-ra’s eyes: “You drank together? Game over!” Lol.
Deul-ho visits Chief Prosecutor Shin next. The chief prosecutor is surprised to see him, and even more so when Deul-ho tells him he wants to defend him in court—not to have him acquitted, but to give him a chance to repent. Chief Prosecutor Shin declines, however, so Deul-ho holds out his hand: “Chief Prosecutor, you reached out your hand to me, a man without money or connections. Now, I want to reach my hand out to you.”
Chief Prosecutor Shin sighs, reminding Deul-ho that he tried to have him killed. He promises to accept Deul-ho’s intentions. With one last smile, he leaves without taking Deul-ho’s hand.
The next day, Chief Prosecutor Shin is escorted to court, and Ji-wook indicts his father for attempted murder and bribery. He knows the words by heart, but with his father on the stand, the words have a different weight. When he looks to Chief Prosecutor Shin, however, he smiles with pride.
After the trial, Deul-ho reflects that it’s over, and mourns Il-gu’s death by sprinkling soju on the road where he was killed. He knows that the chief prosecutor may come out of prison as an even worse monster than before, but holds hope: “People don’t change easily. But when I held my hand out to him, the chief prosecutor’s gaze wavered. That’s enough. The hope that people and even the world can change—that’s the reason I’m working as a neighborhood lawyer.”
One year later. Eun-jo is working as a defense attorney, defending an employee who was wrongfully terminated for taking a childcare leave of absence. After the trial, her opposing counsel, Hae-kyung, praises her performance and offers to settle.
She calls Deul-ho about the settlement, but to her surprise, he tells her that this is her case, and she should settle as she sees fit. She meets Hae-kyung at Geum San and negotiates the deal she wanted. Hae-kyung notes that she looks much happier working for Deul-ho than she did at Geum San, and Eun-jo admits that it’s true—though working for the Neighborhood Lawyer has its own crazy moments. Word of mouth has caused a huge rise in popularity, and people come from far away for their free legal consultations. Plus, she even gets paid now!
Ae-ra is pregnant and finally married to Dae-soo—but they still complain about each other to no end. Ae-ra demands a divorce and all the custodial rights to their unborn child; Dae-soo tries to figure out how to keep from giving her half of his assets. The whole ordeal is cut off when Ae-ra suddenly goes into labor, however, and everyone rushes to take her to the hospital. Oh man, good luck to their future kid.
Eun-jo goes to a bar to meet her lawyer friend, and is surprised to realize that Ji-wook is waiting to meet the same friend. Awkwardly, they realize that they were set up on a blind date. Deul-ho, meanwhile, goes home for Soo-bin’s birthday, and he and Hae-kyung go back to being a loving family. Ji-wook visits Chief Prosecutor Shin in prison, waiting anxiously for his release, while Attorney Kim becomes best friends with Michael Jung.
And as for Deul-ho himself? “I am a neighborhood lawyer,” he narrates. “Most legal consultations are given for free. No matter how small the case, if a person has been wronged, I defend them. I am not an agent for justice, nor am I Superman, as Soo-bin says. As long as there are wronged people in my neighborhood, I will continue this work.”
With a big smile on his face, Deul-ho continues to fight the good fight in the courtroom, filled with passion and righteousness.
And it ends! Look at that goofy smile. As many faults as Neighborhood Lawyer had, I can’t help but feel grateful for its unrelentingly positive perspective on humanity—Deul-ho continues to fight, day after day, for the common right to live in a common world, and strives to make it just a little bit better for one more person. It’s a slow and never-ending fight, but that’s just what makes him so heroic; there’s always more evil to vanquish, but if Superman ever gave up, would he be a hero?
It’s nice to see a show that’s so consistent, and in fact, I think that was both Neighborhood Lawyer’s biggest strength and greatest flaw. We returned every week knowing that Deul-ho was going to face more corruption and defeat it through pure effort, but to see someone confront every challenge with bottomless passion and energy, get right back up after facing defeat and tragedy, and hold on to his faith in the human race—it’s terrifically and refreshingly hopeful. As I’ve said before, this show certainly won’t be earning any awards for realism, but the show never claimed to do so (starting from the first episode, in fact, when Deul-ho literally walked off homelessness). But it used that idealism for a purpose, a point that it hammered in to the very last moments of this episode: everyone has a heart, everyone can change, and together, we can make the world a better place. In Deul-ho’s universe, good always prevails—not because it’s objectively true, but because each of our conscious efforts can make it so. I love a show that knows what it’s about, and Neighborhood Lawyer most certainly did.
The show did lose a lot of potential for a more interesting approach and character development, however, by focusing on Deul-ho as the main character. Sure, the show is named after the titular Jo Deul-ho, but in a way the story was more about the people that Deul-ho impacted rather than Deul-ho himself. In fact, Deul-ho had done most of his growing before the show even started—following Chief Prosecutor Shin’s lead, becoming successful and corrupt, and then shrugging off that yoke in favor of his own moral compass. Park Shin-yang did his best to represent that, and he did a more than serviceable job—but there’s only so much that Jo Deul-ho could give us for twenty episodes. I found myself unsurprised by everything Deul-ho did in this final hour, even if the show seemed to deliver it as a twist—Deul-ho punching Michael, for example, actually tired me out rather than excited me because we’d seen it so many times.
Instead, the most interesting, and most untapped, strength of Neighborhood Lawyer was actually how Deul-ho impacted the people around him. He convinced Hae-kyung and Eun-jo to turn from success-seeking Geum San prosecutors to agents of the vulnerable and needy, convinced Ji-wook to see the light of following his own beliefs, and even reformed Chairman Jung and Attorney Jang from corrupt money-grubbers to—well, less corrupt money-grubbers. Not to mention the countless smaller characters along the way: the arsonist’s son, the elementary school principal, and so on. Some character developments were smoother and better executed than others (cough cough, Chief Prosecutor Shin, cough cough), but I wish the show had taken the ample opportunity to investigate those characters and their own unique beliefs, and thus flesh out their paths to change, rather than let them be as simplistic and oftentimes unexplained. Why did so-and-so decide to change? What was holding them back before? Looking into these questions, even just briefly, would have contributed magnitudes to Neighborhood Lawyer’s overall cohesion.
Doing so could also have avoided Neighborhood Lawyer’s chronic problem of underusing its talent—namely, Kang So-ra. In a weird way, Kang So-ra’s strong performance actually made Eun-jo’s character that much more awful—she was set up to have the most potential development, from her ability in the courtroom, her daring and unafraid personality, her relationship with her family, and her innate empathy and humanity, and was even supported by the most impressive acting in the cast. But because the show was so set on focusing on Deul-ho, she was almost always relegated to being his messenger or mouthpiece rather than her own person. As a result, she was so criminally underused that it made Eun-jo’s flat, uninteresting character seem worse than she was.
Still, I won’t say I’m unhappy with the character development; each of our characters got where they needed to go. Ji-wook discovered his own values; Eun-jo (started to) take control of herself as a lawyer; Hae-kyung softened up and found love again in many different forms. Some of our characters were developed drastically better than others, of course, and I’m guessing (hoping) that the extension that was in talks would have been used to flesh out Chief Prosecutor Shin’s decision to withdraw his candidacy. Still, I actually really liked many of the writers’ decisions for him in this last episode. I appreciated the seeds of regret he expressed here, like not taking Deul-ho’s hand so that he could face a truly fair trial. Letting Ji-wook investigate him to use the opportunity to succeed is another perfect example—it represents symbolic character growth and care for his son as well as an embrace of the fair punishment he deserves, but at the same time it’s actually more of the same corruption: he uses his situation for nepotism, which is perhaps what makes Ji-wook look so despairing in that scene. Chief Prosecutor Shin is brilliant and calculating, but even when he’s aiming for good, it’s through corrupt means. It’s as if Chief Prosecutor Shin recognizes his wrongdoings, but he has far from redeemed himself—he’s got plenty of growing still to do, with the show over, and I’m okay with that.
In the end, Neighborhood Lawyer was plenty of fun, but I’m ready to say goodbye to our Superman. The show did what it had to and it did it with style, and I’ll be thinking of our hodgepodge gang of do-gooders the next time I’m in need.
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 19
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 18
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 17
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 16
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 15
- Park Shin-yang turns down Jo Deul-ho extension, KBS keeps trying
- KBS in talks to extend Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 14
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 13
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 12
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 11
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 10
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 9
- 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