Mystery Queen: Episode 11
It’s a dream come true for Seol-ok to finally be working officially for the police, and with her hero, Inspector Woo, no less. But all is not as it seems, and although Seol-ok doesn’t know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes, she soon starts to realize that the friends who’ve been by her side all along might be the ones she needs the most.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Seol-ok waits excitedly for Inspector Woo to start their briefing, while outside the room, Section Chief Park tries to peer through the blinds, wondering why they’re being so secretive.
Our “Special Unit Seven” members have all been demoted to rookie-level work. Kwang-tae is teaching driving rules to old people who find him boring, so they end up ditching the lesson and dancing to trot music. Dong-ki has been sent to a provincial salt farm. Joon-oh is in the Female Youth Division, where a long line of swooning high school students come to tell him about how “heartsick” they are. (Joon-oh wonders if it’s contagious, ha.)
Wan-seung, on the other hand, is stuck in Public Relations; an officer mentions that she saw him dancing earlier, but by this point, he’s abandoned the female police officers to dance by themselves, wilting in exhaustion from the mascot suit he’s been wearing. Aw, I wanted to see him dance! A group of children suddenly appear, begging him to play with them.
At the Special Investigation Unit, Inspector Woo goes over the details of Joo-yeon’s case, and as he describes the events of the night of the murder, we see them play out. She worked for a clothing retailer in Seodongmun Market and left her work dinner around 12:30 a.m. They have footage of her getting off the bus near her house, and her body was discovered at 9:30 a.m. by her landlord.
Seol-ok is unable to escape the memory of Joo-yeon’s smiling face. Inspector Woo recounts that she was found fully clothed with no evidence of sexual assault, but there were signs that she tried to defend herself, and that she was tied up. The murderer also washed her, and her entire face was covered in duct tape. By the time Inspector Woo describes this last part, Seol-ok is silently crying, and noticing, he calls for a ten-minute break.
Out in the hall, Inspector Woo asks Seol-ok if she knew Joo-yeon; when she confirms it, he tells her that she should remove herself from this case, as her emotions can cloud her judgment. Seol-ok asks to be allowed to stay, determined to catch Joo-yeon’s killer.
Wan-seung and Kwang-tae sprawl on a couch in exhaustion. Wan-seung asks when they can go back to catching criminals, saying that he’s sick of dancing in a costume. Kwang-tae points out that singing at nursing homes is no picnic either and tells Wan-seung to think of poor Dong-ki. Kwang-tae suddenly starts snoring, and Wan-seung pats his face pityingly.
Seol-ok is back in the room, and Inspector Woo now reveals photos of the five victims of the Seodongmun Market serial murders, which took place between 2008 and 2010 in that area—the infamous Tape Murder case. “No way,” says Seol-ok.
Joon-oh joins Wan-seung and Kwang-tae in the conference room, apologizing for being late. Wan-seung tells the other two that the folded laundry in Joo-yeon’s room is suspiciously neat, but Joon-oh says that the clothes in her closet were the same way. Kwang-tae points out that she worked in a clothing store, so of course she would be a precise clothing-folder. Wan-seung says that something smells, but Kwang-tae tells him to find some evidence to back up his claims.
Seol-ok asks for the victims’ cause of death, but Inspector Woo says the autopsy results are confidential, refusing even to divulge whether the cause of death was the same in each case. He points out that all the bodies showed traces of washing, ignoring Seol-ok’s question about what they were washed with. He adds that all of their faces were covered with duct tape.
Seol-ok stands up and interjects that the way the faces were taped is different. Joo-yeon’s face was wrapped from left to right, showing that the culprit is right-handed, whereas the others were wrapped the opposite way. The biggest difference, says Seol-ok, is that the tape on the previous victims’ faces was wrinkled, showing that they were still alive when their faces were covered, whereas Joo-yeon’s was completely smooth. The other victims suffocated to death, but Joo-yeon was already dead when her face was covered in tape.
Inspector Woo looks more irritated the longer she speaks. When Seol-ok declares that the Baebang-dong case wasn’t a serial murder, he tells her to stop being a nuisance and leave. Seol-ok says that it was an accidental murder, and that they must find the underwear thief. Finally, Inspector Woo yells at her to get out. She asks why everything is so secretive—does he already know that this isn’t a serial murder case?
She’s forcefully ejected, and uniformed officers prevent her from going back in. Inspector Woo comes out and tells her not to come back, saying that he’s disappointed in her. She asks if he’s made this case into a serial murder in exchange for the fanciest room in the station, a huge budget, and expert staff. He gives her a blank stare and tells her to find the murderer herself.
At that moment Wan-seung shows up and smiles at her, although he calls her a traitor under his breath. He follows her out, calling her “Seol-ok-ssi” and begging her to share the autopsy results. She tells him that they’re confidential and runs away from him.
Seol-ok ends up back at Kyung-mi’s shop. Wan-seung knows exactly where to find her, of course, arriving there shortly afterward, and notices Jang Do-jang loitering outside. The gangster takes off when he sees Wan-seung, and in his car, he receives a call from someone he addresses as “Chief Kim,” although we don’t see the man’s face.
Chief Kim tells Jang Do-jang not to get involved with Seol-ok and to stay away from Wan-seung and the Seodong Police Station. Jang Do-jang is upset, but Chief Kim says that this is Jang’s last chance; he’d better leave on the boat Chief Kim prepared.
Some Yakuza members show up at Jang’s abandoned office and trash it, which Wan-seung sees when he goes there later. He meets Kwang-tae at their regular hangout, and the team leader tells Wan-seung that the Triad and the Yakuza are searching for the drugs the police confiscated from Jang Do-jang, who has disappeared.
Joon-oh soon arrives, asking excitedly if this is a team dinner. Kwang-tae says yes, but Wan-seung grumpily says their team has been disbanded, probably because of Joon-oh, since it happened right after he joined. He thinks back to the real reason their team broke up, though, remembering his father’s presence at the police station.
Joon-oh unsuccessfully tries to eavesdrop on the Special Investigation Unit while Wan-seung tries to get Joo-yeon’s autopsy results from CSI Park. CSI Park says he’d love to see it himself; Inspector Woo’s team has taken all their material and is being extremely secretive. All he has are his findings from the scene, which he hands over to Wan-seung.
Meanwhile, Kwang-tae tries to get information from Section Chief Park, but he’s equally in the dark. Section Chief Park is feeling the pressure from his superiors and entreats Kwang-tae to stay out of this case, but he refuses indignantly. Finding out that they’ve been banned from the conference room too, the team leaves in disgust.
Seol-ok shops at her neighborhood minimart, and the owner asks if the murderer is really the underwear thief, as rumor has it. Before Seol-ok can answer, Wan-seung arrives to make her an offer she can’t refuse, as he puts it. “I refuse,” says Seol-ok. He says he’ll give her the Shinim-dong case files in exchange for Joo-yeon’s autopsy report. They agree to meet at the mart tomorrow, since Seol-ok doesn’t want to risk been seen together at a cafe. (Wan-seung is very amused by this.)
The next day, Wan-seung goes to the Shinim-dong Police Station and asks a friend, Detective Go, for the taxi case’s files. Detective Go says that those files have gone missing and claims that no one cared since it was an old double suicide. Wan-seung looks doubtful, but thanks him.
Once Wan-seung is gone, Detective Go takes the file out of his desk drawer and opens it to a picture of young Seol-ok, musing that he’d hoped never to meet this persistent girl again. He calls Chief Kim and asks him to act before things get out of hand.
Seol-ok and Wan-seung meet in front of the minimart, each hoping to get away before the other realizes that they don’t have the promised documents. They face off across a table, eyeing each other distrustfully, and they agree to exchange their envelopes at the same time. Seol-ok tries to fake him out, but he’s too fast for her. The second time, they each grab the other’s envelope and run—only to stop two feet away and angrily throw the useless documents to the ground. Hahaha!
At that moment, the owner of the mart brings out a delivery map, saying that she asked her customers and found out that many homes have had underwear stolen from them. They begin to mark homes on the map, and a pattern emerges.
Wan-seung asks if Seol-ok thinks the thief is the murderer, and she says that they have to catch him even if he isn’t. It’s an embarrassing crime to report, and even when Joo-yeon did, the police didn’t take her seriously. Seol-ok looks at him pointedly, and Wan-seung coughs and avoids her gaze.
Earnest Cop arrives to help them add locations, as does a grumbling Slacker Cop. The mart owner brightly says that Slacker Cop practically lives in the sauna, so he must know all the neighborhood gossip, and indeed, he looks at the map and says there have been far more incidents than they’ve marked.
Seol-ok’s neighbor Yeon-hee passes by, and when they ask, she says her underwear hasn’t been stolen; Seol-ok says that hers hasn’t either. Wan-seung deduces that the culprit must live nearby and teasingly asks Seol-ok if it could be Ho-chul, enjoying her offended reaction.
Kyung-suk calls Seol-ok and says she’s on her way to the mart. Panicking, Seol-ok grabs the map and runs off, forcing the rest of the impromptu investigation team to follow her to Kyung-mi’s shop. Wan-seung also calls Joon-oh and Kwang-tae to their “secret meeting,” and a bewildered Kyung-mi points them to her back room.
Inspector Woo has created his own map of incidents (are these panty-stealing incidents, or murders?) and uses technical jargon to describe his method of predicting the next target: basically, drawing circles around the clusters of dots.
At Kyung-mi’s, Seol-ok does the same thing with her marker, saying proudly that they’ve done their own geographic profiling. Wan-seung throws her a little smile and says that Inspector Woo has nothing special after all. Kwang-tae says that those outsiders know nothing about this area, and everyone nods and agrees that they know their own neighborhood best.
Seol-ok notes that the thefts always happen before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m., which probably means the guy has a regular job and doesn’t go far from his neighborhood. Slacker Cop says that some houses have repeated incidents, and they’re all in alleys near main roads.
Seol-ok and Wan-seung say in unison, “He’s using a car,” and their eyes meet for a charged moment. Wan-seung grins and says that he and Seol-ok are in sync, which makes Seol-ok smile at him while everyone else stares at them in suspicion, especially Kyung-mi and Kwang-tae (who are standing interestingly close together themselves, if you ask me).
Since parking in the neighborhood is residential only, they deduce that the culprit must park at an empty house before he goes on his sprees, and mark the most likely spot in each of the five circles. They decide to spilt into teams and stake them out tonight. Joon-oh volunteers to go with Seol-ok, declaring that it’s too dangerous for a woman to go alone, which gets raised eyebrows from everyone.
At Seodong Police Station, Inspector Woo divides his huge team into three and dispatches them to three locations in Baebang-dong to look for the culprit’s black SUV, which they’ve somehow identified.
Seol-ok and Joon-oh hide and wait for the culprit to appear. Joon-oh takes out a small box and gives it to her. It’s a small gold whistle on a chain; now that she’s working for the police officially, he explains, she might face dangerous situations. Joon-oh says that it definitely doesn’t mean anything weird, and she teases him a bit before saying it’s pretty and thanking him.
Just then, Wan-seung calls Joon-oh and says to come right away—the culprit has arrived. The three of them approach a man in a mask who stands rummaging in the trunk of his car. Wan-seung shines a light in the man’s face as he caresses a pair of panties (ewwwww), and Joon-oh cuffs him and reads him his rights.
The man stutters that it wasn’t him—all he did was pick up a few pairs of underwear. Wan-seung points out that he never said anything about underwear and digs in the man’s pockets, pulling out more panties. “It’s not just a few,” says Seol-ok, opening a suitcase in the trunk that’s stuffed full of them.
She finally sees his face and tells the other two in shock that he’s her next-door neighbor. Despite her disgust, Seol-ok says that she doesn’t think he’s the murderer, but Wan-seung finds plastic twine, a knife, and duct tape in the trunk, and says that that’s damning enough. He accuses the pervert of killing Joo-yeon, but he denies it.
At that moment, Inspector Woo shows up with his team, sirens and lights blaring. He tells them to hand over the suspect, and Wan-seung and Joon-oh protest, saying that that they caught him first. But it turns out that he’s arresting Seol-ok for disclosing confidential information. Seol-ok protests that she isn’t even in the Special Unit anymore and doesn’t know anything to reveal. (Wan-seung asks in a whisper if she was fired, ha.)
In that case, asks Inspector Woo, how did she know that the culprit parked his car here? The mart owner, Earnest Cop, and Slacker Cop come running up, and the mart owner says that she’s the one who figured it out. Seol-ok asks Inspector Woo why he’s doing this when he knows that this man isn’t the murderer and that it’s not a serial murder case.
Kwang-tae arrives then to ask what’s going on, and the two men greet each other, Inspector Woo addressing Kwang-tae respectfully as his sunbae. Joon-oh catches Kwang-tae up to what’s going on, as the mart owner and Slacker Cop start bickering again over who found this spot. Kwang-tae gently admonishes Inspector Woo, but Inspector Woo just warns them not to interfere in any of the Special Unit’s investigations from now on.
Wan-seung asks how they can stay out of an investigation they know nothing about, wondering if they’re trying to show off by keeping all the information to themselves. Inspector Woo retorts that they’re going to take the culprit with them, since this is no case for a public relations officer and a school counselor. Seol-ok says it’s no case for the Special Unit either, since he’s not a killer.
The underwear thief pleads that it’s true and says that he was just playing a prank. Seol-ok shows them that the plastic twine has never been used, and the duct tape is dusty; he likely forgot he had it. Inspector Woo says that even if he didn’t use them, they’re a sign that the culprit is becoming more brazen and cruel. Eventually, says Inspector Woo, he’ll end up committing rape and murder.
In a dark forested area behind an abandoned building, a man in a police officer’s uniform approaches a large, covered shape. He removes the black tarp, revealing a police cruiser. Oh my God.
The pervert insists it was just a prank and claims he bought those things in case he might need them at home. Inspector Woo asks why he left them in his car then—everything in his car relates to his identity as an underwear thief, which he keeps separate from his life as a family man.
“The first murder is never easy,” says Inspector Woo calmly. “But in the end, you become a serial killer. You’re being consumed by a monster. It can’t be stopped.”
The police cruiser’s headlights turn on, and it emerges from the wooded alley.
Inspector Woo concedes that the pervert isn’t the serial killer they’re looking for and says that the Special Unit will leave him for Wan-seung’s team, since they don’t have time for petty criminals. Wan-seung bristles at this, and Seol-ok points out, “Didn’t you already know it wasn’t him?” Inspector Woo leaves without responding. Wan-seung glares after him, and Seol-ok wonders who actually killed Joo-yeon.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the police cruiser passes a drunk woman sitting alone on the side of the road. The cruiser slows, its driver watching her in his side mirror, until a man comes and guides her away.
Wan-seung tells Seol-ok to go home early and leave him to get a confession from the underwear thief—he’ll see her at the station tomorrow morning. She agrees, and they smile at each other. As Joon-oh escorts him to his car, the pervert asks Seol-ok not to say anything to his wife, Yeon-hee. Seol-ok just looks at him.
When she gets home, she sees Yeon-hee standing outside, her sleeping daughter on her back. They greet each other politely, Yeon-hee obviously waiting for her husband’s return. Seol-ok says good night and enters her gate, but she turns back to look at the other woman sadly before she goes inside.
The police cruiser shadows another young woman who is unable to get a taxi and waiting at a bus stop. The driver pulls up near her and tells her that this bus has stopped running, and the late-night bus stop is about thirty minutes away. She asks worriedly what she should do. Ack, no! Don’t get in the car!
At the police station, Wan-seung questions the pervert, saying that something smells off—what isn’t he telling them? The man confesses that he was afraid to be caught stealing underwear so he didn’t tell anyone, but he saw something that night. “Did you see the murderer?” Wan-seung asks urgently.
In the backseat of the cruiser, the young woman thanks the police officer for giving her a ride. He says it’s his duty, and she smiles gratefully, but then she notices that they’ve passed the bus stop. He locks the doors and meets her eye in the rear view mirror.
She begins to whimper and bang on her window. He turns up the volume of the car radio to cover her screams and smiles menacingly. The cruiser’s lights flash as it drives into the night.
Oh no. Please don’t tell me Joo-yeon’s killer is Earnest Cop, because that would totally break my heart. I want to believe that my suspicions are wrong, because up until almost the end of the confrontation with Inspector Woo, he was with Seol-ok and her Scooby Squad—or at least, he was definitely with the mart owner and Slacker Cop when they spotted Seol-ok and Wan-seung. Once they arrived at the scene of the panty thief’s arrest, only Slacker Cop and the mart owner spoke, while the cop that was with them hid behind Joon-oh. I’m pretty sure that it was Earnest Cop, but it was dark and we didn’t get any clear shots of him, so he could have crept away during the argument. Hopefully it’s just a very clever misdirect.
It was satisfying to see how quickly Seol-ok lost her hero worship for Inspector Woo once she realized that something was off about him, especially since she’s been ignoring Wan-seung in favor of Inspector Woo for a while now. Seol-ok’s ability to analyze people objectively can make her seem insensitive at times, but it’s also one of my favorite things about her. It’s not that she lacks empathy, because as we’ve seen with her reaction to each crime so far, she has a warm heart that motivates her to work even harder to figure out the mystery behind every case. The disillusionment caused by Inspector Woo’s prevarications was clearly painful for her, but that didn’t stop her from challenging him repeatedly, even though she never actually got any answers from him.
Speaking of this aspect of Seol-ok’s personality, I enjoy how the gender dynamic of Seol-ok and Wan-seung seems switched in comparison to what we usually get in cop procedurals, and how that challenges stereotypes in subtle but interesting ways. For example, in Seol-ok, we have the logical, brilliant, but emotionally obtuse detective that is usually cast as male, whereas it’s Wan-seung who is emotional, clingy, and heavily reliant on his intuition to tell him which direction to take in a case, all of which are typically seen as feminine traits. He’s also way more into her than she is into him, which I find hilarious. Although she does seem to be coming around, and it’s cute beyond words! I also really like that they’re starting to really appreciate each other’s investigative styles, and that they’re figuring out ways to make them complement each other rather than butt heads as they used to.
Inspector Woo is a cipher so far; he’s been quietly self-contained since we were introduced to him, but what seemed like a quirk of genius at first is starting to take on a more sinister aspect. I was especially struck by the flatness of his voice when he predicted the underwear thief’s eventual escalation to rape and murder—he didn’t have the urgent tone one might have when warning someone of danger, but a clinical, almost anticipatory matter-of-factness that honestly creeped me out. There’s also the question that Seol-ok has been asking all episode: Why has he falsified and hidden parts of the investigation, and who is he trying to protect? There’s an unavoidable link to Wan-seung’s father, of course, but there’s also CEO Ha’s relationship to both Ho-chul and Jang Do-jang. Now we also have this mysterious Chief Kim and the unexplained link all of these people have to Detective Go and Seol-ok’s parents’ case. With only five episodes left, I hope we start getting answers soon.
On a lighter note, how adorable were Seol-ok, Wan-seung, and the Baebang-dong crime fighters in this hour? They’re great as a group, but we also had a lot of wonderful one-on-one moments, like Joon-oh telling Kwang-tae that he’s his first, last, and only Team Leader, or the continuation of Wan-seung and Joon-oh’s love-hate bromance. I love how our Sherlock and her Watson have gathered this team of what many might consider losers into a cohesive unit committed to protecting their neighborhood.
Inspector Woo and the higher-ups in the police bureaucracy might dismiss them, but our Scooby Squad has shown clearly that their strength lies in their connection to the place they call home, and their treatment of each crime as serious and worthy of their attention. I really like how this speaks to the larger conflict that we often see in dramas of underdogs fighting for acknowledgment and success in the face of a large organization that wants to crowd them out in favor of its own agenda. In this case it’s not just one powerful actor but quite a few that have invisibly joined hands against Seol-ok and her friends, and I can’t wait to see how this motley band of detectives resists and hopefully defeats them all.
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