Police Unit 38: Episode 7
It’s never been clearer that Jung-do has his own private endgame, but it’s also never been murkier what exactly that endgame is, and how all the pieces and players fit together. But I’m acutely aware that we could be giving the show (and Jung-do) too much credit, as it walks the fine line between complexity that is clever, and complexity that is confusing.
Nevertheless, all the twists and turns and second-guessing are pretty thrilling, and you guys know how much I love an unreliable narrator! And smirky, rascally Jung-do is nothing if not that.
EPISODE 7 RECAP
Sung-il arrives mid-meeting at the swindler’s hideaway. He immediately takes in the profiles that cover a whole wall and asks Jung-do what’s going on. Jung-do looks to the others, and Mi-joo gives him a nod.
He turns back to Sung-il with a widening grin, and asks if the taxes of three hundred evaders would be enough to save his job. Touched by their team’s support, Sung-il blusters that he can’t be working with swindlers. But collecting taxes is his job, and he’s got time on his hands… “Let’s do it together,” he tells Jung-do, eyes crinkling into a smile.
Sung-il peers surreptitiously over the back of a car. Finding the coast clear, he pastes a bunch of posters to the rear window and runs away.
The car’s owner returns and notices the posters just as she’s about to drive off. Leaping out angrily, she tears them off and doesn’t notice Jung-do stroll up. He gets in and drives smoothly away, leaving her agog.
The tax bureau is buzzing, phones ringing off the hook with calls from defaulters now wanting to pay. Mi-joo contributes by using her talent for squeezing rich men to now get their taxes (and is that an uncynical smile on her face?), while Madam Noh and Ji-yeon go about it in the time-honored tradition of terrorizing their victims into compliance.
Hak-joo remains a master of throwing himself on cars, as he lands on windshield after windshield, to the hilarious shock of the occupants. Oh god, this is too funny.
Ja-wang, meanwhile, prints off fake parking tickets which Jung-do and Sung-il push into their targets’ mailboxes, while disguised as postmen. Hak-joo and Mi-joo do the same, and she snorts when he gives her a flirty wink. One by one, the defaulters pay up.
Sung-il strides the streets in shades and a snappy suit. Ohhh look at you! He reaches a crossing where Jung-do’s on the other side. Oh man. This is too good. He’s like a mirror of the younger man, and Jung-do laughs in surprise while Sung-il acts like this is perfectly normal, mouthing a defensive “What?!” at him from the other side.
Jung-do keeps teasing Sung-il over his new look. The men wave at Hak-joo in the middle of another “accident,” which he abandons to join them, limping and bleeding from the nose.
They pass Mi-joo, dressed up as a policewoman, and wave. She joins them and they find Ja-wang next. He runs to catch up with them, although Jung-do laughingly ignores him. They make a triumphant procession down the street, raising a hand to Madam Noh at a café. She, too, joins the cheerful parade.
The news of the sudden upsurge in tax payment reaches Mayor Chun, and even the news announces a radical increase in the city’s budget for children’s education.
It’s night when Jung-do sees off Madam Noh. He thanks her for her help, and she tells him she had fun. Jung-do very nearly giggles.
He rejoins the rest of the team in the little restaurant they like to frequent, where the news of the city budget plays on the TV. Jung-do asks the owner ajusshi why he looks so happy, and the ajusshi tells them that his little girl’s school books will be free from next month on — his taxes were good for something after all.
Sung-il greets the news with a private, heartfelt smile, and he’s lifted by the whole team’s warmth and camaraderie. He asks Jung-do what he’ll do now. What else is a conman to do but con, Jung-do responds cheerfully.
But instead of telling him to stop now, Sung-il tells him not to get caught: “If you don’t get caught, and I don’t get fired, we might meet again sometime.” Aww, not goodbye already? (Of course not, it’s only Episode 7!)
The next morning finds a rumpled Sung-il asleep at his gate, where his wife and daughter discover him. He makes out like he left the house early to go to work, but his wife sees right through him.
He tries to flee, but she seizes him by the ear and beats him for loafing about. But she finishes with telling him to just quit if it’s too much — she can be their breadwinner. Ji-eun passes Dad with a thumbs-up for encouragement.
He arrives to find City Hall abuzz with how much money’s been pouring in in tax arrears the last few days, and enters his office with a wide smile… which fades as he encounters Commissioner Ahn with his team.
Ahn remarks that Sung-il’s team has been doing really well without him, and turns back to them to warn them not to do “it” again. Departing, he advises Sung-il to dress smartly for his hearing tomorrow.
Sung-il asks his team what that was all about, and team maknae AHN CHANG-HO confesses that they went after Bang Pil-gyu. Alarmed, Sung-il suddenly notices Sung-hee’s absence and asks where she is.
Sung-hee hangs her head before Mayor Chun. He switches off the broadcast of President Bang’s (faked) apology when her team attempted to collect his taxes, and asks if she did it for Sung-il’s sake. Leaning back, he tells her that misusing governmental authority makes them little more than vigilantes.
Section Chief Kang tries to prevent Sung-il from going to get Sung-hee. Sung-il can’t understand why they went after President Bang at all. Increasingly distraught, he reminds Chief Kang what happened to his brother-in-law (who has a name, KIM MIN-SHIK). President Bang is out of their reach, and he asks why on earth Kang involved the kids, too.
“I did it because [I was afraid] you’d end up like Min-shik, you boor,” Chief Kang snaps, no less upset. The same thing had happened then — Min-shik had no one on his side and he ended up dead, Kang reminds him.
Blinking back tears, Sung-il says, “Hyung. Don’t worry about me, or you’ll end up hurt, too. You have to make your pension.” Patting him on the shoulder, Sung-il leaves.
Sung-hee apologizes to the the mayor and he offers her a solution: If she apologizes to President Bang and promises never to cause such an incident again, he’ll cancel Sung-il’s disciplinary hearing. She returns to her desk, silent in thought. Sung-il also returns, throwing her a worried look.
Cutting back to her meeting with Mayor Chun, we hear her assent. Satisfied, Chun makes a call and cancels the hearing. It’s finished now, he says, and warns her to keep this meeting to herself. Sung-hee half-smiles to herself at the memory. Sung-il interrupts her thoughts and asks for a word and she invites him along on her errand.
President Bang accepts a drink from Commissioner Ahn, who conveys Mayor Chun’s apologies for not being able to come. The commissioner confirms that the news about Ma Jin-seok paying his taxes is true, although he doesn’t know about any scamming.
Bang asks who ordered the raid on his house — the mayor? Or some upstart? Ahn laughs nervously that it was the latter, and vows that it won’t happen again. But President Bang isn’t placated. Though they couldn’t injure him, his feelings were hurt, he says. Ahn bows in contrition. The president cryptically remarks that although it’s been six years, “I just can’t forget what happened then.”
Ahn reports to the mayor about President Bang’s repeated references to the past, but oddly, it looks like the news worries Mayor Chun more than Commissioner Ahn. Ahn thinks that President Bang thinks they’re going after him on purpose. The mayor tells him to schedule a meeting between them quickly.
Sung-il gives Sung-hee sidelong glances as she drives, and finally says that he understands why she did what she did. She cuts him off gently, bringing up his partnership with Jung-do instead. She’s figured out that they scammed the defaulters into paying up, and Jung-do must have said that would save his job, right? She reveals that Sung-il’s disciplinary hearing’s been canceled now.
He’s shocked by the news and asks how it happened, but she just shrugs good-naturedly. She tells him that he has to stick it out to the end now, until they can champion the law without the help of a conman. He’s in as soon as she promises not to go after President Bang. Sung-hee agrees that he should aim at becoming commissioner. After all, Commissioner Ahn made it, and all he does all day is say “no” — he’s probably saying it right now, she snorts.
And he is. Commissioner Ahn can’t understand how Sung-il’s hearing was canceled, and talking into his phone, he says he’s about to meet his informant now. He approaches a hooded figure, and asks for all the information regarding the bribes s/he reported Sung-il as receiving.
The figure pushes back the hood and whaaaaaaat?!?! WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? WHY IS IT JUNG-DO? A flashback shows First Division’s Baek Sung-il taking the initial report, which specifically named Baek Sung-il of Third Division as the recipient of bribery. Although Sung-il assumed it was Ma Jin-seok who made the false claim, Ahn had never said it was.
Ahn asks for some solid evidence that proves the bribery claim, but to his dismay, Jung-do breaks into helpless titters. Barely containing his LOLs, he apologizes, “But what to do? It was just a prank call.” Lost for words, Ahn gulps like a fish. Jung-do smiles innocently and says he only came today out of respect for an elder. Jung-do, you are a terrible person!
Before he leaves, Ahn confronts him for taking him for a ride. But Jung-do notes how quiet their meeting place is. His loud voice could do a lot of damage to the commissioner, he figures, and asks if he wants to end up like Sung-il. Ahn is trapped into letting him go quietly.
PARK SANG-HO, a feckless guy who was always hanging around the tax office, calls up Division Three for Sung-hee, who’s absent. He talks to Chief Kang instead. Apparently, he wants to meet now to pay his taxes, and Sung-hee also has to be there.
Investigator Park points out that Sang-ho’s penniless, and Kang agrees it’s unexpected. He shouts sleeping maknae Chang-ho awake to drive him.
Sung-hee hears from Chief Kang while she’s still with Sung-il, who also thinks it’s weird for Sang-ho to suddenly have money. She invites him along, but he’s got to be somewhere else, so he leaves first.
Jung-do visits Detective Jae-sung in prison and asks if he really accepted bribes. But if he didn’t, he should be released soon, right? “I believe in you, ajusshi,” he says fervently.
“That’s the kind of thing you said to my father, isn’t it?” Jung-do asks, tone switching abruptly. He knows the detective is innocent, but so is his father, so Jae-sung can keep rotting in jail, Jung-do says.
Jung-do brings up real estate consultant Mr. Noh reporting their scam, and reveals gleefully, “I told him to do it.” In flashback, we now see him opposite Mr. Noh while he made the call to the detective. Jae-sung sits up in shock and fury. That’s one down and two to go, Jung-do tells him.
At a subway station, Chief Kang makes small talk with Chang-ho while they wait for their man. Chang-ho’s contract with the bureau is nearly up, and after that, he plans to become a police officer. Kang advises him not to nod off on the job there: “Everything about you is good, but your problem is that you sleep too much.”
Chang-ho confesses that that’s just a ploy to put everyone else at ease. As a temporary intern, he’s something of an outsider with them. This way, he stays out of their hair, he smiles, and whenever they need him, they just wake him up.
Chang-ho takes off for a bathroom break — did he just pass a suspicious masked man? Someone approaches Chief Kang, too. Nooo this isn’t good! Sung-hee, meanwhile, just arrives overground and makes her way inside.
Whew, it’s just Sang-ho who approaches Chief Kang. But he looks a bit crazed. Clutching a paper bag, Sang-ho keeps asking for Sung-hee because he has to give the bag to her. From a distance, someone watches them.
Chief Kang tries to help, but eventually wrests the bag from him. He’s shocked when he finds it chock-full of large banknotes, while I’m shocked at the hilarious incongruity of the mustache design on the bag.
All cheer gone, Chief Kang asks sternly where he got that money. Did someone tell him to give it to Sung-hee? But like a broken record, Sang-ho just keeps on asking for her while getting increasingly fraught.
Chang-ho finally comes back, passing a man taking sneaky photographs. He looks back, and it’s the masked man. When Chang-ho realizes he’s capturing the scene between Sang-ho and Chief Kang, he calls it out to the chief right away, but the masked man breaks for it. Realizing the trap, Chief Kang confronts Sang-ho fiercely.
Sung-hee finally reaches them — the masked man zips past her, Chang-ho in pursuit. Ahead, Chief Kang tussles with Sang-ho for the bag, which splits all of a sudden, sending both men to the floor while millions of won fly into the air.
Sung-hee peers through the crowd and notices Sang-ho. He flees the moment he sees her, and downed Chief Kang urges her to go after him. It’s hilarious how people are just casually picking up the money and walking on, ha.
Chang-ho finally chases down the masked man, but gets a violent beating. He finally gets free when he knocks the masked man out with a rock and he quickly secures the camera. Nooo, don’t check it now!! While he does, a second man approaches from behind, and delivers a vicious strike to the head with a metal pipe. Chang-ho collapses.
Meanwhile, Sang-ho gives Sung-hee the slip, making it (while weeping) onto a train before she can apprehend him.
Sung-il barrels into the hospital where the others already surround Chang-ho’s bed. He’s still unconscious and Sung-il asks what happened. Faltering, Chief Kang says he thinks someone’s after him and Sung-hee.
Sung-il obtains Sang-ho’s address and heads there. Sang-ho’s holed up at home where his altercation at the station plays on TV. Distressed, he drinks and hugs his knees.
Sung-il flashes back to the time brother-in-law Min-shik conducted a raid on Bang Pil-gyu. Just like with Sung-hee, President Bang had asked his name, and vowed to remember it. Sung-il also remembers how he doubted Min-shik over the bribery charges.
Sang-ho’s wife calls him for food, but he doesn’t answer. She opens the bathroom door and screams: He’s lying on the floor, mouth foaming — dead?
Sung-il’s detective friend Deok-bae questions a bunch of suspects about (of all things) streaking through Gangnam. But the arrival of a mystery person shocks him to silence. He calls Sung-il to tell him that the guy who lynched his intern turned himself in. “But…” he trails off, staring at the figure. Sung-il spins his car around immediately.
President Bang sits across from a man he addresses as “Chairman” — this must be Woohyang’s Choi Chul-woo. President Bang chuckles to him that what’s great about their country is that the rabble stay busy fighting each other. It makes them easy to order around, too.
Sung-il storms into the police station and is shocked to find Ma Jin-seok there. He’s the culprit?! Sung-il stares at him in disbelief.
They get a moment alone in the men’s room, and Sung-il demands the truth from Ma Jin-seok. Did he really do that to Chang-ho (“our kid”)? Jin-seok’s nonchalant response enrages Sung-il, who slams him against the wall.
Jin-seok blames Sung-il — he should have been satisfied with ruining him, and not gone after President Bang’s money. The rich hate that, he explains, so Bang set up the trap to get them back. But Chang-ho found out, Sung-il concludes — so who did that to him? A flashback now reveals the true culprit: Bang’s vile son Ho-seok.
Sung-il comprehends that Jin-seok was ordered to become their fall guy. With a cynical smile, Jin-seok tells him that President Bang will reinstate him if he takes the fall for this. He’ll probably see him in a year or so, Jin-seok says — or not, since he became a tax-paying citizen, thanks to Sung-il.
“Hey. Is money really everything?” Sung-il asks Jin-seok, who just smirks in return.
Chief Kang calls Sung-il from the hospital. After getting them into this situation, the only way he can think of to resolve it is by stepping down, and taking sole responsibility. He’s already settled it with Commissioner Ahn. Sung-il protests, but Kang says that what the higher-ups want, they get. Instead, he instructs Sung-il to stick it out and make his pension.
Sung-il receives yet another distressing phone call, which sends him to a funeral — Sang-ho’s. The rest of his team is already there, as are Sang-ho’s wife and young son. Aggrieved, he pays his respects.
Sung-hee waits to be questioned at the police station about the subway incident, which Sung-il watches from afar. Joining him, Deok-bae sighs that the police are no different from the tax bureau and his hands are tied, too: Right or wrong, the higher-ups decide what goes.
Sung-hee finally comes out, and Sung-il gently asks if she’s okay. Voice trembling, she tells him that she keeps thinking of the last thing she told Sang-ho — to go out and work. She’s disgusted with herself that she was going to make the apology that Sang-ho deserved to President Bang instead. “I really regret it all so much,” she says, voice catching. Sung-il lets her go by herself.
Alone in a taxi, Sung-il turns over the memory of what President Bang told them six years ago. That ants like them lived, ate, and slept thanks to the largesse of people like himself. “So I have no obligation to the country,” he rants, “The country has an obligation to me.” If you say so.
Sung-il arrives at his destination, where a door opens to reveal Jung-do. Ohhh. Haggard and sad-eyed, Sung-il asks Jung-do: Does money really mean everything? Jung-do senses something’s wrong, and Sung-il tells him that his hoobae got hurt, and Sang-ho… he can’t even get the words out.
“I have to crush these fiends. Let’s work together one more time,” Sung-il asks.
Aww, they keep hurting my teddybear ajusshiiii. And baby Chang-ho! I should have known that they were making us like him so much only to hurt him! But did anyone else get yet more Misaeng feels when Sung-il went around calling him “our kid?” I wonder, at this point, if there’s an element of conscious homage in those little touches and tonal similarities, even when it’s subverted, as on Sung-il’s first morning back at work where the sun was shining and life was good. It felt like an intentional exercise in perspective, offering Sung-il up as an unreliable narrator himself: He’s not alone, his folks support him, life needn’t be bleak and mechanical when there’s good all around him. We didn’t dwell on the moment for long, but I liked it.
So Jung-do. Right now, it looks like targeting our Sung-il wasn’t a mistake at all, but part of a more elaborate plan. Looking back, it all fits in, like how he deliberately showed himself to Sung-il after the car scam, as if setting himself up to be recognized again. And it wouldn’t make sense that someone as meticulous as him (as we continue to learn) would make such a basic mistake. So nope, it was all by design. It’s also much more characteristic of the kind of conman he is. Like he’s said, conning at its most skillful is manipulating people’s feelings, and it requires a different degree of finesse to make people’s behavior follow a pre-set course when there are so many variables at play.
I’m assuming his endgame at that stage had been to bring down Ma Jin-seok. And while we have an inkling that Bang Pil-gyu is also one of his remaining targets, I’m not sure he meant to yank that string yet. That was initiated by Sung-hee, and I don’t believe he’s premeditated any of her actions at this point — she’s an element who remains a blind spot in his machinations.
I felt bad for her this episode. If last time was a lesson in maneuvering, this time it was lesson in consequences. Without the benefit of being genre-savvy, she had no way of knowing what putting a mark on her back actually meant, or that it potentially put everyone at risk. She’s still too straitlaced to realize that she can’t take the promises of powerful people at face value — a thing both she and Sung-il tend to do, although the latter is trying to change. The thing is, she needs to grow, and tragedy is growth’s best agent. I also want to avoid the logical fallacy of blaming her for trying to do the right thing (her job) because it went wrong. That supposes the crime was inevitable, therefore, the criminals (President Bang, his son, etc.) are not to blame for committing it, but the victims are for not preventing it. And I just don’t jive with that (hello, rape culture). The burden of blame ultimately has to lie on the person committing the crime.
I would have said that the growing relationship between Jung-do and Sung-il was the best part of this episode, but I now feel compelled to reserve final judgment on that until Jung-do proves himself. I did love what Sung-il’s smile at the beginning of the episode signified, though. What’s different from the last time — when Jung-do said he would catch Jin-seok — is that this time, Sung-il believes him. He’s no longer an unknown quantity and it’s not an abstract three hundred, but a concrete promise. I’m also beginning to see the pattern in Jung-do’s altruism. I think his offer to help was honest, and his affection for Sung-il genuine, but he just can’t help mixing his honest feelings with dishonest motives. It was entertaining how that also reflected in the way the team carried out their mission. Although their purpose is now ostensibly noble, their methods and principles remain essentially unchanged. I found that quite a real and lovely touch, because it says (emphatically!) that they’re not bad, even if they operate outside the law.
Nevertheless, being around Sung-il is changing Jung-do. The older man might be imitating his style and following his dodgy teachings, but Sung-il remains fundamentally himself, while Jung-do demonstrates a deeper shift. We know he fully intended to shaft Sung-il after achieving his goal, but Sung-il himself is the reason he doesn’t. What the younger man learns from Sung-il, though, is not because he’s older, but because he’s kinder. And principled. And dependable. All qualities Jung-do lacks. Sung-il is the embodiment of the papa bear, and it’s clear that Jung-do, despite his sharp wits and keen insights into human behavior, carries a hole in his heart for his own absent father. Let papa bear in, Jung-do-ya. Also, give him back his money.