Tunnel: Episode 15
What better way to gear up for the big finale than to take a journey through a murderer’s mind? For someone who likes to hide in the light, his underlying motives have so far remained hidden behind a sticky web of moral superiority. But it’s finally time to drag it all out into the harsh light of day, and if Jae-yi can’t do it, no one can…
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Dr. Mok takes time off work and throws cable ties and tape into the back of his car. We catch up with him later as he drives into the night. “So I am a serial killer,” he narrates. He says in voiceover that he had thirty years of peace where no one knew his secret, and it was so exhilarating that it made him laugh.
But then recently, the other Park Kwang-ho had spotted him in the tunnel. Asking questions in the neighborhood nearby, he came to hear of the murder there thirty years ago. Dr. Mok says that it’s a problem that people still talk about dead people. (Well excuse you, I’m sure they don’t mean to inconvenience you.) Then, as we know, he killed young Kwang-ho.
He continues that he’s now come to realize that everything that happened was fated, and that destiny brought Kwang-ho, Sun-jae, and Jae-yi to him. He dissolves into wild cackling as he speeds off with Jae-yi gagged and bound in his trunk.
At Jae-yi’s car, Kwang-ho calls her name in panic. Sun-jae rushes there and finds Kwang-ho slumped on the curb with a phone in each hand, repeating over and over that Jae-yi said she was coming right away. Sun-jae urges him up, and they go to check out the CCTV.
They find just one snippet of Dr. Mok at Jae-yi’s car, presumably abducting her, but as the car leaves the school gates, they find no visible sign of Jae-yi inside. Horrified, they both suspect what that means.
Sung-shik and his team are on the scene, and he puts out an APB for Mok’s car. One of the forensic officers tells him that it looks like Jae-yi was drugged and shows him a syringe cap retrieved from her car. Meanwhile, Sun-jae and Kwang-ho track Mok’s car via traffic cameras and find that he went through the Hwayang tollgate forty minutes ago.
On the road, Mok’s car starts juddering, and he pulls up to find his tire punctured.
Back at the police station, the detectives have constructed a timeline, concluding that Mok’s purposeful movements mean he’s heading somewhere specific, but he’s using the highways to mask it. Min-ha wonders where the fountain pen could be, but Sun-jae replies that only Jae-yi knows that.
Kwang-ho finally breaks his melancholy brooding to suggest that they look into every location Mok has had a connection to, including the places where he’s been a medical volunteer. Tae-hee and Min-ha look into Mok’s call records, credit card, and online activity, while Sung-shik continues to scan the highway CCTV. For a while, quiet reigns as everyone works at their tasks.
The mechanic Mok had to call out finishes patching up the tire. As he’s about to leave, he hears banging from the trunk, where Jae-yi is now awake and aware of his presence. Mok follows the mechanic ominously as he goes toward the sound.
But at the last moment, a phone call from another customer sends him hurrying away. Jae-yi cries despairingly in the trunk as she hears him leave. But the trunk opens… and it’s Mok, needle in hand. He administers a shot and shuts the trunk again as she passes out.
At the police station, the detectives have little luck finding anything on Mok, until Sung-shik gets off the phone wide-eyed and tells them that they’ve got a witness.
By now, it’s a new day. Over the phone, they get Mok’s location the night before from the mechanic, and Sun-jae discovers that it’s a town Mok once volunteered at. The mechanic also tells them about the strange sounds from the trunk, and Kwang-ho is horrified. The detectives head out in force.
Mok now holds Jae-yi captive in an abandoned house, and the police must be close, because he hears their sirens. Led by Sung-shik, the party spread out to search, and Mok can actually see a police car right outside his window. But their search is fruitless, and Kwang-ho is disheartened, though Sun-jae tries to encourage him.
Mok is relieved when the police pull out. He takes a seat opposite Jae-yi and tells her that he’ll ask her the whereabouts of the pen precisely three times, and if she doesn’t tell him by then, he’ll kill her.
She doesn’t reply when he asks the first time, and smiling, he tells her she’s got two chances left. He suddenly seizes her by the throat and asks her a second time while violently choking her. He finally releases her, and between sobs, she tells him, “England.”
He doesn’t believe her at first, but she tells him that since she was adopted, all her childhood things are there. Warning her not to deceive him, he lets her talk to English Kate. She tells Kate that the fountain pen is with her bible in her old desk drawer, and instructs her to send it to her office. Jae-yi tells Mok it’ll get to them in three days, but something in her look tells me that she’s got a plan.
Sun-jae’s Missing Persons contact calls him up to ask if anything’s up with Jae-yi, and says that English Kate told him about her weird call—something about a fountain pen?
Jae-yi takes in her surroundings, noting a child’s drawing on the wall of a woman with her back turned, and a one-eyed boy left behind. (Seriously, what’s with the one eye?! What kid draws themselves with one eye?)
English Kate tells Sun-jae that Jae-yi’s desk doesn’t have any drawers, so she thought something was off. Telling her not to worry, Sun-jae instructs her to send any pen, along with the bible. To the team, he guesses that Jae-yi purposely bought them time, knowing word of her call to Kate would reach them.
They meticulously plan a stakeout around Jae-yi’s office to catch Mok. They worry about Jae-yi, and Sun-jae consoles Kwang-ho that Mok won’t do anything to her until he gets the pen. Tae-hee tells him it’s just three days before it’s all over. “To me, that three days is thirty years,” Kwang-ho says hollowly.
Jae-yi refuses the water Mok offers and asks him about the drawing on the wall instead. “You drew it, didn’t you? You lived here with your mom,” she says. The victim profile she figured out for Jung Ho-young—targeting women in skirts because he saw his mother in them—was actually Mok’s, she continues. “What kind of person was your mother?” she asks.
His gaze travels to a ladder going up to the loft, and a trip to the past reveals his childhood self playing at being Gaksital (based off the manhwa, which came out long before the television series) . When he called for his mom, he heard a man’s voice rise angrily down below, followed by his departure. Little Jin-woo’s mom came sullenly up, irritated by the interruption.
Jae-yi guesses that she used to go to meet men, dressed in skirts and stockings. She paints the picture of his young life, constantly alone and waiting for his mother while she was out. His hatred would have grown as deep as his love, she says.
Staring at her, Mok recalls another memory of wanting his mother’s attention, but she just pulled on her stockings and went out. She’d come home that night and found her clothes cut to ribbons and strewn everywhere.
“The person killing his mother over and over again was not Jung Ho-young, but you,” Jae-yi says. At that, Mok loses it and says he killed those women for a reason, but Jae-yi derides him for being exactly the same as Jung. “I’m different!” he roars back, calling the women he killed sinful.
In disbelief, Jae-yi asks what Sun-jae’s mom had done wrong in taking her husband a necktie. He saw her smiling at another man on the bus, Mok replies, before he asks how a woman like that could raise a child. Rather, it’s better to have no mother at all, he says.
“No, you just killed those women because you wanted to,” Jae-yi cuts in. “You killed them in place of your mother.” He lunges for her, which she says only proves her point. She goads him to strangle her, screaming, “Kill me, you murdering bastard!” Shaking with the effort to control himself, Mok bolts from the room. Girl, that was one hell of a gamble.
Breathing heavily in the open air, another memory assails him, of his mom giving him the “Noel” fountain pen as a gift for starting middle school, but really it’s a precursor to sending him to live with his grandma.
In a bad way, either from alcohol or drugs, she had put him into a taxi. Though sad to have been sent away, he smiled over his gift. But when the taxi driver scorned the red light district’s women as “dirty women,” his face had darkened. He leapt on the man and attacked him, screaming that his mom wasn’t like that.
He repeats the line to himself again now, trembling.
Sun-jae hears from Kate that the package will arrive the next morning, and the detectives plan out how to snare Dr. Mok. Kwang-ho says they’ve got to get him in the building, otherwise he’ll escape. Strapping on their weapons, the team files out with purposeful determination, and they begin the stakeout of the university building.
In the morning, Dr. Mok leaves Jae-yi—freshly gagged—and heads there by taxi. Inside the building, Sun-jae and Kwang-ho are alerted to the courier’s arrival. They begin a nonchalant approach, but are surprised that he has no delivery for Jae-yi. They stop the man, who explains that it was arranged to be collected by someone else, and we see that Mok picked it up en route. The detectives hiss in frustration.
Of course: Mok had listened in on their strategy meeting via his chess-piece listening device, thus pre-empting them. But he opens the box only to find an ordinary pen.
At the police station, the detectives try to figure out how Mok anticipated their plan, and more importantly, Kwang-ho asks, how did he know Jae-yi had the fountain pen, when he’d only spoken about it privately to Sun-jae?
Sun-jae’s eye falls on Mok’s chess-piece lying on his desk. In dawning realization, he signals everyone to silence and pries off the base, revealing the chip. The team are appalled. Kwang-ho grinds it underfoot and stalks out, muttering murder. Hey, you could have used that to your advantage!
Fuelled by cold rage, Dr. Mok confronts Jae-yi over her deceit. Exploding, he shouts at her to tell him where the pen is, but she gives no reply.
Kwang-ho goes to Jae-yi’s apartment and sinks into her chair. Clasping the whistle in his hand, he promises Yeon-sook that he’ll save their daughter no matter what. He notices Jae-yi’s voice recorder on her desk, and remembering that she was looking into Mok’s past, he listens eagerly to her last interview.
When Kwang-ho learns of Mok’s mother’s line of work, the significance of stockings, and her death by alcohol, he realizes Jae-yi’s whereabouts could be connected to her. Rejoining Sun-jae, they look up the records of her death and acquire her old address, which they’re told may no longer exist. It matches the account in the recording, and Sun-jae tells Sung-shik right away.
Jae-yi maintains her silence. Dr. Mok takes it as his cue to talk and needles her about Kwang-ho, revealing his knowledge of their relationship. “What does it feel like to meet a father who is younger than you?” he asks before gloating about who to tell first about her father killing the real Park Kwang-ho and assuming his identity.
Seeing her fear, he demands the real location of the pen again, but she still can’t bring herself to speak. Saying that he should’ve killed her from the start, he closes in on her, but snaps around at the sound of sirens.
The police spread out to search once again, and Kwang-ho and Sun-jae discover a room with an upturned chair and cable ties scattered over the floor. They find the back door open, and Kwang-ho sees Mok flit by, Jae-yi over his shoulder. They give chase frantically, but Mok makes it to his car too quickly for them.
Kwang-ho’s shout jerks Jae-yi back to consciousness. Lightning-fast, she opens the door—which Mok hadn’t had time to lock—and throws herself out of the car. As they’re reunited, father and daughter cry in relief, although Mok escapes.
Jae-yi checks herself out of the hospital. Though limping from a sprain, she’s surprisingly chipper despite her ordeal and insists on retrieving the pen immediately. Back at her place, she digs out the red teddy bear.
“Oh! That doll…!” exclaims Kwang-ho. She smiles at him and nods. Cutting the bear open, she takes the pen out at last. Kwang-ho thanks her, and adds in a quieter voice, “Thank you, Yeon-sook-ah.”
Jae-yi wonders why Mok is so obsessed with the pen, and furthermore, why didn’t he kill her right away? That would’ve ensured the pen would be lost forever. She thinks it must be important to him in some other way, since he was so desperate to get it back.
The team gather with bated breath for the DNA results, which return positive for recent victims Yoon Da-young and Nam Joo-hee. But there’s no trace of the 1986 victims—it’s been too long, Sung-shik says. (I’ll say: It’s sixty years after the pen’s round trip through time!)
Everyone looks at Sun-jae. After a brief internal struggle, he says that the statute of limitations had passed anyway, but he’s frustrated that now that they’ve got the evidence, they’ve lost their suspect.
Jae-yi returns to the scene of her captivity, and this time goes up the ladder to the loft. She finds the child’s Gaksital mask, followed by a stack of Gaksital manhwas in the cupboard. Underneath it all, she discovers an aged, leather-bound notebook, which she unfastens and begins to read.
Dr. Mok visits his old church. He pauses at the memory of his younger self with that veteran who marked his kills on his body. “Jin-woo-ya, you have to kill the filth,” the veteran had told him. Young Jin-woo latched on to those words. Filthy things, he thought.
Later, he went to the hospital where his mother just died. Holding her hand, he asked, “Mom… did you die because you were filthy, too?” The thought followed him back to church, where he got up to leave mid-hymn. In a neat transition, it’s the adult Jin-wo—Dr. Mok—who exits.
“You guys couldn’t catch Gaksital,” he says, cursing them.
During the latest strategy meeting, Sun-jae recalls that Mok told him he could predict a person’s move by looking at who they were leading up to the crime. He determines that Mok will kill again—immediately, just like he did when he was released from custody last time: “He’s a person who can’t stop killing.”
Kwang-ho is positive that he hasn’t left Hwayang. He adds that Mok targets women who remind him of his mother, and moves around on foot. Looking at the locations of the bodies, Sun-jae struggles to find what connects the victims.
“It’s the place where he first saw them,” Kwang-ho says suddenly. He tells them that in the past, Mok killed them where he found them, but with CCTV and more people around, he can’t do that now. Accordingly, they find that all the victims’ final whereabouts were concentrated in front of the university, which Sun-jae concludes is Mok’s hunting ground.
With those parameters, the detectives and police spread out on the ground, while Sung-shik monitors the CCTV from the control room. He spots a capped man following a woman fitting the target description and directs the team towards the park.
The suspect picks up his pace to follow the woman, but Kwang-ho and Sun-jae sprint in and tackle him before he can reach her. But to their shock, it’s some other guy, not Dr. Mok.
In that moment, Kwang-ho recalls Jae-yi asking why Mok was so intent on the fountain pen, and why he didn’t kill her when that would bury the knowledge of it once and for all. It must have a special meaning to him, he remembers, and a dark realization strikes him.
Jae-yi steps into her house and freezes immediately, sensing the murderer’s presence even before she sees him. She tries to bolt, but Mok yanks her back and throws her to the floor, choking her with his bare hands.
“Just like Park Kwang-ho did to me, I should also take away what he treasures the most. You, Professor Shin… Park Kwang-ho’s daughter,” he grits out.
Oh my god, this girl can’t catch a break! At first, I wailed and gnashed my teeth at the sheer woeful incompetence of it all, but you know what? I’ve decided to put my faith in the show. It’s pulled feints before, and at this late stage, it cannot be relying on compound stupidity to reach its end, I refuse to believe it—not when it’s repeatedly proven how much it cares about delivering those emotional moments with such touching realism.
I expected this episode to be packed with thrills—the first act of the big finale, going at a mile a minute—so it’s a little surprising that it turns out to be one of the most introspective yet. I’ve never been particularly interested in Dr. Mok as a villain, nor in his reasons for killing his victims. It was all just so very typical, so very classically misogynistic, that it didn’t seem worth dwelling on. But you could say this episode was about revealing all the different elements of what made him tick, and now that it’s finally come together, I’m surprised that I found it interesting after all.
Of course, we’ve known he was the murderer for some time, and many of us guessed it long before that: It’s a difficult balance the show has tried to strike, between creating suspense on the one hand, and creating a morbidly compelling character study on the other. I’m divided on how successful it’s been, but if we accept that the mystery was never intended to be in his identity, but rather in his motivation, I think it brings us much closer to what the show wanted to achieve with him.
That’s further proved by Jae-yi’s character, whose psychology lessons have guided us through a murderer’s mind throughout the course of the show. It’s actually one of the touches I really like in the show, where the “telling” has been strangely more effective and engaging than the “showing.” It’s seemingly straightforward exposition, but there’s a touch of cleverness in how seamlessly it fits into the narrative and the nature of the character, and I’ve always found those interludes thought-provoking.
So what is Mok Jin-woo made of, and what does he add up to? His individual traits are far from extraordinary, but they come together in a strange and chilling way. I find Gaksital’s appearance very telling, because with that alone, we understand how he sees himself: a masked hero and savior of the people. It was pretty clever (and foolhardy!) how Jae-yi trapped him when she provoked him, banking on his desperation not to be identified with inferior murderer Jung Ho-young. But it was a powerful bind, because had he killed her, he’d prove her right (that he’s no different from Jung Ho-young), and it would irreparably shatter the image he holds of himself as a killer with just cause.
We also set to rest the question I’ve been quietly wondering: Did he kill his mother? And it seems he didn’t, which may be his single redeeming quality. As bitter as his love was, he clearly craved her attention and it’s obvious from the moment she gave it to him how much he cherished that pen. Nevertheless, his attachment to her was a poisoned one, and maybe it was her death that triggered his misguided and zealous conviction that he was freeing the world of filth: Filth killed his mom, and filth is evil, so filth must die. I also find it interesting how for him, death and filth are fundamentally intertwined. It makes it all the more astonishing that he was able to keep his true self so thoroughly hidden without making anyone suspect him, and I wonder if such a thing would be possible with a similar criminal in real life. Wouldn’t someone notice something off? Or is that why he works with dead people?
With just one more episode to go, I’m a little scared that we won’t have enough time to do justice in our team’s send-offs. I’ve always assumed Kwang-ho would return to his own timeline and reset the future to a happier trajectory, but guuuys, your speculations on him being doomed to remain in the current future kills me! Say it isn’t so, show!
But no matter what happens in the next hour, thank you, Tunnel, for giving us Choi Jin-hyuk back in such fine form; for treating us to a bumbling three/five-way bromance with so many levels of lols that I still laugh about it days later; for fixing my little robot girl and letting us feel like her smile is the sweetest thing in the world; for the charmingly awkward almost-romance that will slay all fatherly opposition, and most of all, for being a show that—always and emphatically—wore its heart on its ’80s-leather-jacket sleeve.
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