Mystery Queen: Episode 9
Tensions and stakes are high as the many players invested in Jang Do-jang’s case try to outmaneuver each other, and no amount of bromance can distract Wan-seung from the fact that he’s forced to choose between two terrible outcomes. All of that will cease to matter, however, when a new, brutal crime disturbs the recently regained peace of Seol-ok’s neighborhood.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
In a darkened theater, an actress gives a sad but hopeful monologue, and a young man sits in the front row, looking as though he feels the message is just for him. It’s Hyun-soo and a young Wan-seung; after the performance, she takes off her wig backstage, freeing her long hair, and he watches her through a gap in the curtains. When she sees him, he smiles and walks away.
In the present, Wan-seung arrives at his darkened apartment, greeting Hyun-soo’s picture as he enters his bedroom. He drops heavily onto his bed. “Where should I wait now, Hyun-soo?” he asks into the dark.
Buying some water for himself at a convenience store, Joon-oh sees some boxed meals and buys them for his colleagues. Slacker Cop complains that their superior comes to the substation whenever he’s free, but Earnest Cop says he likes it because Joon-oh always brings them food.
When he comes in, Joon-oh notices a man sleeping on the station bench with newspapers over him, and thinking it’s a drunk, he uncovers him. Wan-seung groans at the rude awakening and the sudden cramp in his leg, which Joon-oh obligingly grabs and stretches for him. Wan-seung asks if Joon-oh’s house is nearby, and when the latter says yes, he follows him out of the substation.
As they walk, Joon-oh asks Wan-seung if he really caught No Doo-gil by himself, saying that he saw Seol-ok there. Wan-seung feigns ignorance and finagles his way into Joon-oh’s apartment for the night. He admires how neat everything is and comments that Joon-oh is practically ready to get married.
Wan-seung checks out the bathroom, marveling at the bathrobe hung on the door, saying he didn’t know people actually wore those or the pajamas Joon-oh is currently clutching to his chest. Joon-oh retorts that they’re comfortable and tells Wan-seung not to touch anything while he’s in the shower.
Joon-oh emerges to find Wan-seung eating his food and wearing his pajamas. Joon-oh sighs and gets out another set, which Wan-seung complains are matching—he has no desire to wear couple pajamas with him. Joon-oh snaps that it was a two-for-one deal.
Wan-seung, noticing that the side dishes are from Kyung-mi’s store, says that something smells. (Joon-oh says it’s Wan-seung, and tells him to go take a shower. Ha.) Wan-seung asks suspiciously if Seol-ok bribed him with side dishes, but Joon-oh says he paid for them himself before telling Wan-seung not to eat out of the containers. He comes to the table and arranges some side dishes neatly on a little platter, and Wan-seung teases with a smile, “Wanna marry me?”
Joon-oh asks in frustration why Wan-seung won’t just leave—nothing has worked out for him since they met, he says, but Wan-seung keeps eating, unperturbed. Joon-oh leaves him to it and goes to his dresser, where he sees a report titled “Investigating with Civilian Experts” and quickly hides it. That night, Wan-seung lies awake on the couch, his cheerful demeanor gone.
Ji-won arrives early to work the next morning, and has just boarded the elevator when three of Jang Do-jang’s goons appear and hold the doors open. The young man who confronted Kwang-tae and Dong-ki in the first episode asks Ji-won why she hasn’t been to see Jang Do-jang in prison. She says coolly that it’s unnecessary, and they get into the elevator with her.
Seol-ok peeks into her bedroom at her sleeping husband. She wonders how much he knows, then puts on a smile and cheerfully wakes him up for breakfast. Ho-chul is quiet and watchful this morning, and after escaping to the bathroom, he remembers the ticket he found in her pocket and thinks to himself, “Seol-ok, I know you went to Sunhae Island.”
We see her perspective of that scene now: She saw him find the ticket, and she thinks back at him that the ticket doesn’t prove anything. She resolves to tell him that she lent her purse to Kyung-mi, saying to herself with a smile, “Oppa believes everything I say.”
When Ho-chul comes to the table, he watches her as she bustles around the kitchen, thinking that if she uses Kyung-mi as an alibi, it would mean that she really is hiding something from him. As Seol-ok brings breakfast to the table, she reconsiders her plan of using Kyung-mi, since she doesn’t know what her friend told Kyung-suk yesterday. She remembers Ho-chul noticing her muddy shoes and realizes that he knows for sure that she was on the island. Stalling for time, she calls Ho-soon loudly and repeatedly.
Jang Do-jang’s chief minion goes to visit him in jail and relays that Ji-won said he’ll undoubtedly end up in prison if he goes to trial for attempted murder—so she’ll make sure the case never goes to trial. She’s promised that Jang Do-jang will eat dinner at home tonight. Jang asks about “the woman by the locker,” and tells his minion to find out everything about her. Uh-oh.
Ho-soon notes that her brother is home unusually late this morning, and he says he’s auditing the Seodong Police Station today. Seol-ok, flustered, wonders how she’ll manage to testify now. At Seodong, Wan-seung and Kwang-tae wait outside for her arrival, with Kwang-tae asking agitatedly why it’s taking her so long and Wan-seung promising him she’ll be here once she makes breakfast.
Just then, Ji-won calls Wan-seung and tells him to stop Seol-ok from testifying; he calls her crazy and hangs up on her. She sends him a picture of himself and Seol-ok at the lighthouse, and he calls her back immediately, telling her not to drag Seol-ok into this. Ji-won says Wan-seung knows how Ha & Jung will use these photos—if he makes Seol-ok testify, does he think she’ll be safe? This time, she hangs up on him.
At Seol-ok’s house, tension rises even higher when Ho-chul asks why they had to go to an island to work on Ho-soon’s thesis. Seol-ok wonders how much he knows and says innocently that they went with Wan-seung. Ho-soon’s jaw drops, and Kyung-suk asks who that is. Seol-ok is careful to describe him as a detective who works “under” Ho-chul, saying he spent the whole day helping Ho-soon with her thesis and that she somehow lost her phone in the process.
Ho-soon sips her tea and watches this conversation in fascination, noting Seol-ok’s intense eye contact with Ho-chul (Ho-soon’s verdict: She’s lying). Ho-chul asks if Wan-seung has mentioned anything about testifying, and Seol-ok says piously that she’d never do anything like that as a prosecutor’s wife.
Ho-chul tells her to stay away from Wan-seung and scratches his neck, which Ho-soon interprets as a sign of irritation (Verdict: He won’t tolerate any more lies). Seol-ok says she’s going to stay home so she doesn’t run into Wan-seung, but Kyung-suk says she has to at least go to Kyung-mi’s store (Verdict: Both lies). Ho-soon shakes her head and goes to her room.
A fuming Wan-seung shows up at Ji-won’s office to tell her to leave Seol-ok alone, but she claims she’s just doing her best for her client. She asks why he cares about Seol-ok so much—if he really wants to catch Jang Do-jang, he can just make her testify. Wan-seung denies any involvement with Seol-ok, but Ji-won pointedly gives him Seol-ok’s phone, saying she found it in her car.
Wan-seung says that Seol-ok is just a citizen with a strong sense of justice, and he can’t endanger her. Ji-won tells him to choose between Jang Do-jang and Seol-ok, since the gangster is currently digging up information about the prosecutor’s wife. Ji-won says she doesn’t want Seol-ok to get hurt either, because that would make Wan-seung feel guilty. It’s him, not Ha & Jung, that’s putting Seol-ok at risk, says Ji-won—has he forgotten what happened to Hyun-soo? Wan-seung looks stricken. Okay, you’re permanently on my shit list, lady.
After Ho-chul leaves, Seol-ok wonders how she can give her testimony. She decides to go into Ho-soon’s room and record it on the younger woman’s cellphone, sending the audio file to Wan-seung.
Ho-soon asks bluntly if Seol-ok is cheating on Ho-chul with Wan-seung, and Seol-ok scoffs at the idea. Ho-soon is skeptical, but Seol-ok says she’s just testifying to help Ho-chul’s career. Ho-soon calls her out on her obvious lie, and flustered, Seol-ok tells her that it’s bad manners to point out when someone lies before flouncing out.
Kwang-tae calls Wan-seung to warn him not to come back to Seodong Police Station since Ho-chul is there, so of course he heads there right away. When Wan-seung arrives, Ho-chul is demanding to see all kinds of random documents, and Wan-seung tells him to stop wasting their time. Ho-chul says that he’s just as busy as the police and tells Wan-seung to release the suspects held illegally.
Knowing that he means Jang Do-jang, Wan-seung exclaims that the man almost killed someone. Ho-chul asks if he has evidence of that, and Wan-seung almost tells him that he has the victim’s testimony before remembering Ji-won’s words. Ho-chul says that he knows Wan-seung doesn’t have the victim’s statement and tells him to release Jang immediately, threatening to have Wan-seung thrown in jail for contempt if he doesn’t comply.
As Ho-chul walks back to his car, he calls CEO Ha’s secretary and tells him to let his boss know that Ho-chul put off all his important work and did this as a personal favor. CEO Ha is hobnobbing with a high-ranking police officer, who introduces him to Captain Jang, the head of the Seodong Police Station.
Outside Kyung-mi’s store, she and Seol-ok grin at posters for Inspector Woo’s show, which is happening today. Seol-ok begs Kyung-mi to close the store early so they can go see it, but Kyung-mi firmly refuses. A bit later, they notice customer JOO-YEON buying only vegetables today, and the young woman confesses that she’s on a diet—tomorrow is her first ever blind date.
Joo-yeon says excitedly that going on a blind date and wearing shorts were the two dreams she wanted to achieve after moving to Seoul from the conservative countryside. Kyung-mi looks at her with fondness and nostalgia, and Seol-ok asks if Joo-yeon wants to watch the store this afternoon. She readily agrees, and Kyung-mi tells her that the side dishes are on the house.
Jang Do-jang is released, and Kwang-tae sighs in frustration that they’ve lost their chance at him as he wonders why Seol-ok backed out of her promise. Wan-seung sits dejectedly at his desk, staring silently at Seol-ok’s phone. Kwang-tae wonders briefly if Seol-ok is in danger from Jang Do-jang, and Wan-seung abruptly leaves.
Wan-seung comes to Kyung-mi’s store looking for Seol-ok but finds only Joo-yeon, who recognizes him and asks if he’s caught the panty thief yet. Wan-seung finally remembers her and says they’ll catch him soon. Joo-yeon says that another pair was stolen two days ago and tries to show him a picture, but Wan-seung tells her he’s being transferred, directing her to talk to Joon-oh instead. Disappointed, Joo-yeon looks up the price of a CCTV camera, dismayed at how expensive they are.
Seol-ok and Kyung-mi excitedly find seats at Inspector Woo’s show, and once there, Seol-ok shushes Kyung-mi, who’s apparently only here to ogle the man. Suddenly a voice down the row asks disdainfully if Inspector Woo has ever actually caught anyone, and they look over to see Wan-seung. He smiles and nods in greeting.
After the show, Kyung-mi gets her book signed as the other two watch. Wan-seung throws shade as usual, and Seol-ok asks why he’s even here. He gives her back her phone and asks if she’s seen any strange guys around. She says she’s only seen Wan-seung (ha), and relieved, he tells her that he’s going back to his original position. She tells him that it’s all due to her, and when he retorts that he saved her life, she insists again that she saved herself on the island. He tells her goodbye, and she watches him walk away.
Seol-ok catches up to him outside and asks if the police were able to lock up Jang Do-jang with her testimony, but he tells her they couldn’t use it after all. He adds that she shouldn’t get involved with the police again and to delete his number, and she says she’ll do it right now as she takes out her phone.
They tell each other to stay out of trouble, and Wan-seung tells her that since she won their bet, he’ll look up that case she asked about. Touched that he remembered, she tells him that it’s the Shinim-dong taxi driver case from November 14, 2007 before thanking him sincerely. He tells her not to worry about erasing his number and says that he’ll call her when he has the information.
Wan-seung goes to his regular hangout and drinks alone, the elderly proprietor asking him where his “wives” (Kwang-tae and Dong-ki) are today before telling him to slow down. He asks her to make him ramyun, and he practically inhales it as he remembers the past.
Young Wan-seung waits outside the theater for Hyun-soo and confesses that he likes her. She says he distracts her so much she can’t act, and as time passes, he eventually stops coming to her shows.
She misses him, and some time later, when he shows up with a present for her and a scratch on his face, she invites him back to her apartment. Hyun-soo makes him ramyun, and as he eats, she touches Wan-seung’s face. “Don’t get hurt anymore,” she says, and they smile at each other.
Back in the present, Joo-yeon walks home alone, and suddenly feeling uneasy, she calls a friend and asks her to stay on the phone until she gets home. A man follows behind her in the dark, and although she doesn’t see him at first, once she realizes he’s there, she runs for her life. We see a flashback of the same man stealing the magenta underwear Joo-yeon told Wan-seung about with a creepy smile on his face.
Joo-yeon reaches the gate of her building and locks it behind her, peering out at the empty street. Once she assures herself that the man is gone, she goes up to her apartment, sighing in relief as she enters. “Oh, the laundry,” she remembers, and goes to retrieve it from the roof, leaving her front door slightly ajar. Noooooo girl, forget the laundry! Close the door!
She’s in the middle of collecting her dry clothes when she feels as if she’s being watched. Panicking, she runs back to her apartment and locks her door—but the man is already waiting for her in the dark hallway. He muffles her screams with his hand and drags her into the bedroom as she struggles.
At the substation the next morning, Wan-seung tells the others not to throw him a farewell party, and Earnest Cop assures him cheerfully that they weren’t planning on it. Joon-oh heads out on a drunk and disorderly call, and Wan-seung tags along with him, asking for a ride to his car nearby. Joon-oh asks in alarm if he’s planning to spend the night at his place again, but Wan-seung ignores that and gives him Joo-yeon’s magenta underwear, telling him to take over her case.
Wan-seung says he has bigger fish to fry back at headquarters, but he tells Joon-oh the serial theft case will be good experience for him. He pets Joon-oh’s head and tells him not to miss him too much, and when Joon-oh cringes and tells him to stop being so clingy, Wan-seung pulls his ear and says he’s cute.
At that moment they receive clarification on the radio that the incident Joon-oh is headed to is actually a murder, and Wan-seung says he’ll come too. They enter the apartment, and Wan-seung’s expression slowly changes as he sees the victim’s body, laid out on her bed with tape covering her face. CSI Na tells Wan-seung that they’ll be able to identify her once they remove the tape and do an autopsy.
He turns to look at a wall covered in her pictures and a calendar next to them with a note on today’s square: My first blind date. Looking devastated, he leaves the room and goes up to the roof. “Bigger fish to fry? You crazy bastard,” he says, disgusted with himself. “I should have caught the thief back then.”
Joon-oh joins him and tells him it’s not his fault, but Wan-seung says that he’s wrong—he doesn’t even deserve the title of detective. Joon-oh tells him he can’t prevent every crime, but Wan-seung asks him if he could say that to Joo-yeon. “She’s only twenty-three. She’s never even been on a blind date. Today was going to be her first!”
Wan-seung says he should have stopped it, that a proper detective would have, and he vows to catch the psycho who did this. He runs down the stairs to a balcony that overlooks the street and spots Seol-ok, who has come to deliver Joo-yeon’s forgotten side dishes. They stare at each other.
Mystery Queen reminds me of a domestic mystery novel like the ones Agatha Christie used to write, and I find that fitting and delightful for a drama inspired by Sherlock Holmes, however loosely. Like Christie’s books, this world is populated with interesting characters who slowly reveal their secrets as we get to know them. The difference is that our civilian detective and her partner/frenemy detective are among those we’re discovering, instead of just being puzzle-solving ciphers that observe everyone else from a cold distance. I think that’s to the show’s benefit, because although the cases are unusually well done for a procedural drama, it’s the slow peeling back of layers from our two main characters, their history, and their relationships with the people in their lives that keeps me coming back each week. I love how the writing gives us subtle clues about each character without spelling out what kind of person each of them is in black and white terms, at least not right away.
I’ve gushed about how much I love our crime-solving duo ad infinitum at this point, so I’ll talk about our second leads this time. Firstly, Ji-won has been unlikeable and a bit out of touch with reality since the beginning, but she made my blood boil in this episode. In a single conversation with Wan-seung, she managed to blame him for her own blackmail and threats, revealed that the only reason she doesn’t want Seol-ok to get hurt is because it might increase Wan-seung’s attachment to her, and told him that the greatest trauma of his life was his own fault. This is a man she’s proposed to multiple times. Even leaving aside the engagement-napping, that’s a level of crazy I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. And I really can’t forgive her for putting that look on poor Wan-seung’s face.
Ho-chul, on the other hand, is a more subtle villain, and it’s clear by this episode that he’s the kind of typical corrupt prosecutor that we’ve seen in countless dramas already. What I find interesting about him is his dynamic with Seol-ok, which is clearly not as amicable as it seemed when we first saw them together. The breakfast scene was an obvious illustration that they constantly lie to each other, and neither of them seems to feel guilty about it, which is not a sign of a functional relationship. These two are headed for a massive and long-overdue blowup in the near future, and a part of me is looking forward to it. It will be painful for for everyone involved, especially for Seol-ok when she realizes how he’s been living his life outside their home, but it will hopefully be a catharsis she needs, and a necessary one for her to move on and be her own person.
This was a doozy of an episode, and the writing, acting, directing, and music continue to be near-perfect in every scene. I was especially impressed by the sequence at the end, when Joo-yeon was followed and attacked by her stalker. It was terrifying, exactly bringing to mind the uneasy feeling of walking alone at night that’s so familiar to women who live in cities, and bringing to life the worst possible logical conclusion to that fear. Joo-yeon’s story was heartbreakingly sad, and the show did a great job of making her human and lovable to us just when it would give her death the most impact. I had wondered if the panty thief storyline would simply be a throwaway comedic beat; I’m glad that we returned to it in an example of the all-too-real, often tragic consequences for women whose complaints about stalkers are repeatedly dismissed by the police. One theme that has emerged over the course of this show is that of violence against women and the various forms it takes, and I can’t express how much I love that the heroine who takes up the cause of these victims is a badass, smart-mouthed housewife who doesn’t allow anyone to underestimate her.
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