Witch’s Court: Episode 5
What do you do when you come face to face with an old enemy you thought you put behind you? Our hero will find out this week as he’s haunted by an old case—and a young girl’s life. But things might go differently this time because he has a team supporting him, plus a whip-smart heroine who (reluctantly) believes in him.
EPISODE 5 RECAP
We open on Jo Gap-soo sitting alongside the other two mayoral candidates for their official televised debate. The first question asked is about where Jo Gap-soo’s wife is since she hasn’t been seen in years, but Jo Gap-soo brushes it off by asking that family matters be left outside the debate.
One of the other candidates, Kim Moon-song, seizes this very public opportunity to confront Jo Gap-soo about the charge of rape he was accused of 30 years ago, and the victim’s subsequent suicide. Jo Gap-soo retains his composure and notes that he was acquitted for that charge, but his expression turns tense as Kim Moon-song declares, “The victims of [Jo Gap-soo’s] torture are here today!”
The silence is deafening, and Prosecutor Min watches the debate with interest. Kim Moon-song continues, “Imagine they were here… could you say you have nothing to be ashamed of?” Although Jo Gap-soo is momentarily relieved that there are no victims in the audience, his self-control is visibly gone, and he struggles to respond to the question.
After the debate, the displeased Jo Gap-soo wonders if Prosecutor Min was behind this ambush. He is shocked to learn from Sang-ho that Yi-deum is the daughter of Kwak Young-shil, and furthermore, that Jin-wook is the son of Jo Kae-sook.
Sang-ho expresses his worry that these two are working with Prosecutor Min now, but Jo Gap-soo smiles at this turn of events as he contemplates, “It depends on how you use them. Even a tiger is nothing but a kitty cat if you declaw it.” But the smile drops from his face at the news that a “Chairman Ahn” is going to sell the hotel, and Jo Gap-soo darkly mutters that the hotel was his only connection.
Five years ago. We flash back to when Jin-wook was still a psychiatrist, not a prosecutor. In court, a young girl stumbles over her words as she tries to explain how her stepfather, Choi Hyun-tae, regularly assaulted her, but she dissolves into sobs as the impatient prosecutor scares her. The judge orders the girl, Ah-reum, to be led away.
Jin-wook takes the stand to testify to Ah-reum’s trauma, but is disgusted by the defense lawyer’s suggestion that the 10-year-old Ah-reum was curious about sex and consented to Hyun-tae’s assault of her. Jin-wook explains that a child may confuse a desire for affection with sexual curiosity if an adult manipulates them, and that Ah-reum’s uterus has been damaged so badly that she may suffer from infertility. Jin-wook stresses:
“The sexual trauma will haunt her forever. Even an adult would have a hard time with this, and she hasn’t even hit puberty. Are you saying it’s okay because she was curious… and that it was voluntary?”
Despite Jin-wook’s impassioned pleas, due to the lack of other witnesses and the defendant’s good career, the judge only orders a prison sentence of five years.
After court, a furious Jin-wook slams the prosecutor against the wall and blames him for not performing well enough to get a longer conviction. The prosecutor is unrepentant as he blames Ah-reum for not being a better witness, and actually congratulates himself for even getting five years because the defendant’s brother-in-law is the mayor.
Jin-wook is left bereft at the outcome, and he turns regretful eyes to Ah-reum and her mother. Ah-reum’s mom piteously asks what she can do, since Ah-reum will only be in middle school by the time Hyun-tae is released.
Five years later. A carefree Jin-wook is walking down the street when he spots a teenaged Ah-reum in shock as she watches her stepfather approach her. Jin-wook rushes to intercept, but is hit by a car… and wakes up from the nightmare to Yi-deum’s extremely annoying alarm clock and her mess of a room.
Elsewhere, Yi-deum takes advantage of Jin-wook’s pristine apartment. Applying a bold lipstick, she declares, “Okay. I’m ready for war.”
The effort doesn’t go unnoticed by Jin-wook, and he compliments Yi-deum, who perkily states that she had better look good if she isn’t going to be seen as a wreck after the spy camera incident. Jin-wook is less pleased about the fact that she has raided his perfume and fancy caviar though, especially when Yi-deum is blasé about asking for the “victim escort service” again and tries to weasel her way into more time at his apartment.
Their easy conversation is broken when something catches Jin-wook’s eye: The teenaged Ah-reum being escorted through the halls by two policemen.
It turns out that Ah-reum has been arrested for stabbing Choi Hyun-tae after he harassed her and her mother when he was released from jail. Meanwhile, Jo Gap-soo doesn’t hesitate to use this to his political advantage when it’s revealed that Hyun-tae is candidate Kim Moon-sung’s brother-in-law, and Jo asks Kim Moon-sung to step down from the race.
At the prosecutor’s office, the team gathers round to discuss Ah-reum’s case, and they denounce the system that left a young girl unprotected like this. Jin-wook asks earnestly if he can be involved in this case, and Prosecutor Min warily accedes.
Jin-wook regretfully stares at Ah-reum locked up in the dark cell, and in flashback, we see Ah-reum’s mother tell Jin-wook that Ah-reum would be too scared to go to court. Jin-wook had reassured Ah-reum that he would be there to protect her and put her stepfather in jail for a very long time. Looking into the young girl’s guileless eyes, Jin-wook had asked, “Just trust me.”
In the present, Ah-reum insists that she was the one who stabbed Hyun-tae, even after Jin-wook gently says that he doesn’t believe her. Ah-reum looks defeated as she states, “You told me to trust you last time too.” The truthful words hit their mark, and Jin-wook looks teary as he asks Ah-reum to trust him one more time: “I want to make up for my mistakes last time.”
Ah-reum is conflicted, but confesses to Jin-wook that when she woke up, she saw her mother stabbing Hyun-tae. Ah-reum is adamant that it was self-defense though, especially because it was Hyun-tae’s harassment that sent her mother into a depression which required her to medicate with anti-anxiety pills.
Desperate, Ah-reum describes how, when Hyun-tae was released from prison, he would somehow know when she left the house and follow her wherever she went. It got to the point that Ah-reum and her mother were afraid to leave their house—and Ah-reum admits that if her mother hadn’t stabbed Hyun-tae first, then she would have killed him soon. Ah-reum begs Jin-wook to help them like he promised he would and jail Hyun-tae for what he has done.
From afar, Prosecutor Min notes that Jin-wook cannot handle this case and says, “Feeling sorry has nothing to do with work.” Yi-deum agrees to take the lead on the investigation, and leaves to interview the “victim,” Hyun-tae.
At the hospital, Yi-deum doesn’t try to hide her disdain as she asks why Hyun-tae cares what happens to Ah-reum. In reply, Hyun-tae spins a story of how he sought forgiveness from Ah-reum and her mother when he was released, but he only got rebuffed in return. Just as he was about to give up, Ah-reum’s mother asked him over to the apartment.
But when he got there, he claims, Ah-reum’s mother drugged him with sleeping pills so that she could kill him. In the present, Hyun-tae exaggeratedly winces in pain from the knife wound in his side, and explains that he stabbed Ah-reum’s mother in self-defense as they were struggling over the knife.
Back at the prosecutor’s office, Jin-wook is irate at Yi-deum’s conclusion that Hyun-tae acted in self-defense and yells that Hyun-tae is taking advantage of the fact that Ah-reum’s mother is in a coma. Yi-deum doesn’t look happy, but she can’t ignore all the evidence pointing to Ah-reum’s mother being the perpetrator.
Jin-wook thrusts a knife into Yi-deum’s hands and asks her to think about this logically—if Ah-reum’s mother had been stabbed first and fallen to the ground, like Hyun-tae claims, then she would not have been able to reach Hyun-tae’s side where his wound was. Instead, Jin-wook figures out, Hyun-tae must have stooped down after Ah-reum’s mother was unconscious to thrust it into his side himself and frame her for the attempted murder.
Very briefly, Yi-deum looks like she believes this, but blunt as ever, she tells Jin-wook that she thinks he’s too invested in this case. Exasperated, Jin-wook states that he will go out and find the evidence that she requires and lock Hyun-tae up for what he has done.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Jo Gap-soo tenderly mops his comatose wife’s face… in front of a cadre of journalists. Jo Gap-soo tearfully looks into the camera as he reveals that his wife fell into a coma 15 years ago from a rare disease, and he has been waiting for her to wake up ever since.
After the journalists leave, Jo Gap-soo’s tears dry, and he orders his assistant to tell “that person” to move his wife. Enraged at the suggestion that his wife should be exposed to the media even more, Jo Gap-soo yells, “Once is enough for a show!”
Softer now, he adds, “It gets boring a second time.” Looking down at his wife, Jo Gap-soo coaches her to stay asleep, since that’s the best way that she can help him.
Elsewhere in the hospital, Jin-wook looks on with sorrow at Ah-reum’s mother’s comatose body. He catches the doctor and asks whether she will awaken soon, but the doctor states that it’s probably taking longer because of all the sleeping pills that were found in her system. This new information gives Jin-wook pause as he confirms they are sleeping pills, not the anti-anxiety pills Mom was prescribed.
At the same hospital as Mom, creepy music plays as Hyun-tae finds Ah-reum visiting and traps her in a corner. Ah-reum sinks to the floor in despair as her abuser edges closer to her, an exultant smile plastered on his face.
But before Hyun-tae can reach her, Jin-wook arrives in time to drag the man away. Ah-reum’s head drops as tears begin to fall.
Jin-wook throws Hyun-tae away from Ah-reum and demands to know why he’s at the same hospital as Ah-reum’s mother. Hyun-tae’s lawyer arrives to pull Jin-wook off Hyun-tae before he can answer, and in return, Hyun-tae asks why Jin-wook is so determined to keep Ah-reum away from him. Hyun-tae sneaks a look to the CCTV and whines, “Ah-reum’s mother may go to jail now. Then who will poor Ah-reum rely on in this world?”
Infuriated and crazed at the insinuation, Jin-wook punches Hyun-tae in the face over and over before he’s pulled away. Hyun-tae leans in close to gloat, “I failed five years ago, but not this time.”
Kim Moon-sung, Hyun-tae’s brother-in-law, righteously uses the opportunity to publicly call for Jin-wook’s head. Much to Jo Gap-soo’s irritation, even with all the nonsense surrounding Moon-sung and Hyun-tae, his ratings refuse to go down.
Jo Gap-soo receives a phone call from Chairman Ahn, irate that Jo Gap-soo would use his wife to gain votes. Chairman Ahn asks if Jo Gap-soo wants to use his hotel shares to buy votes, and warns Jo to remember who got him to where he is.
Tiring of the threats, Jo Gap-soo issues his own warning, as he asks the chairman if he wants to build his “White Town” in Seoul instead of Yeongpa. Jo asks the chairman to think hard about who will benefit him most going forward.
Hanging up, Jo Gap-soo asks Sang-ho if the issue with Moon-sung’s brother-in-law has been resolved, and asks to see “the son.”
Outside Prosecutor Min’s office, Yi-deum pounces on Jin-wook as soon as he leaves and good-naturedly needles him about whether he has been suspended or not. Heedless to the jibes, Jin-wook turns to Yi-deum and sincerely asks her to help him.
At the hospital, Hyun-tae is smug as he carries a bouquet of roses through the halls to Ah-reum’s mother’s room. Armed police guard the door though, and with Ah-reum nowhere in sight, Hyun-tae belligerently throws the flowers to the ground.
Instead, Ah-reum is safely stashed away at Jin-wook’s mother’s house, where Jin-wook secures a tracking bracelet on Ah-reum’s wrist for extra protection. Downstairs, Yi-deum nosily looks around before she is greeted warmly by his mother, Dr. Jo Kae-sook. Yi-deum introduces herself and breezily comments that her name is so unique that she must be the only Ma Yi-deum Dr. Jo has ever met.
Dr. Jo looks away in consternation as she remembers an old patient of hers. In flashback, we see Yi-deum’s mom locked away in a cell, desperately crying that she needed to contact her daughter, Ma Yi-deum.
Before Dr. Jo can say anything though, Jin-wook interrupts. Dr. Jo fusses over Jin-wook and tells him to take care of himself while Yi-deum looks on. A touch of jealousy crosses her face at the motherly affection, but Jin-wook doesn’t notice and asks Yi-deum to follow him.
Meanwhile, Prosecutor Seo Yoo-ri volunteers to handle a child molestation case, determined to get it right after Ah-reum’s case went so wrong. However, in the interview, the little boy forgets important details, and his mother prompts his answers, or fills in details herself.
At the scene of the crime in Ah-reum’s apartment, Jin-wook and Yi-deum look for clues that Ah-reum’s mother is innocent. Yi-deum marvels at the size of the suitcase that could fit a whole person, but Jin-wook steers her back on track as he states that it makes no sense for Ah-reum’s mother to take sleeping pills voluntarily if she knew that Hyun-tae was coming over.
Certain that he is right, Jin-wook declares that Hyun-tae’s plan must have been to quietly kill Ah-reum’s mother in her sleep by drugging her, except his plan went wrong when she woke up. Realizing that Mom wouldn’t willingly take something from Hyun-tae, the two look around the apartment for something Hyun-tae could have hidden the pills in—and that’s when Yi-deum’s eye falls on the milk bottles that get left outside every morning.
At the hospital, a nurse informs Ah-reum’s mother’s doctor that the prosecutors have ordered a blood sample to be taken from Mom (to confirm whether the pills match those that might be found in the milk bottle). Unfortunately, this hospital seems to have no confidentiality policy, and the lurking Hyun-tae overhears the damning conversation.
Outside, a paranoid Ah-reum cowers as people brush past her, imagining them as her abuser. Ah-reum flinches as a woman bumps into her, but doesn’t notice as the woman stares at her from behind.
Over the phone, the woman confirms that she has placed the tracker on Ah-reum, and Hyun-tae smirks in satisfaction on the other end. He stands up—on his bandaged leg—and walks over, completely normally, to the edge of his window to stare down, as if he can already see Ah-reum and everything she is doing.
The test results come back, and there were traces of sleeping pills found in the milk bottle that match those found in the blood of Ah-reum’s mother. Although this gives the prosecutors the opportunity to search Hyun-tae’s place, it becomes clear that he hasn’t used it in a long time, and they can’t find anything of use there.
All is not lost though, as Yi-deum accepts an offer to meet with Jo Gap-soo, who claims to have important information for the case (but doesn’t notice as someone mysteriously snaps her picture as she enters Jo’s car). Yi-deum astutely asks Jo Gap-soo whether this information comes for free, and seems surprised that all he wants in return is a photo with her after the case is solved.
In a remote area, Yi-deum meets with Hyun-tae’s old prison cellmate, who confesses that Hyun-tae would often make him uncomfortable. Hyun-tae would talk about the woman he was in love with, whose mother didn’t approve—and Hyun-tae would laugh that he would kill the mother if she kept opposing. As for his “girl,” well, he would just have to kidnap her.
Disturbed, Yi-deum wastes no time in calling Jin-wook to tell him that Hyun-tae plans to kidnap Ah-reum. Jin-wook is horrified as he realizes the signs were there all along—from Hyun-tae’s warning that he failed five years ago, to the person sized suitcase that was in Ah-reum’s room for Hyun-tae to kidnap her in.
Meanwhile, Ah-reum is elated as she answers the phone to her now conscious mother… except Hyun-tae looms over Mom and cuts the call short before Mom can warn Ah-reum to run away. Hyun-tae, dressed as a doctor, switches off Mom’s ventilation and hurries away from the scene undetected.
Jin-wook and Yi-deum frantically call Ah-reum’s number, but their panic escalates when they can’t get through. Meanwhile, Ah-reum answers her phone, but it is Hyun-tae on the other end as he sing-songs, “Ah-reum, where are you?” Ah-reum looks terrified, but doesn’t notice as Hyun-tae approaches her from behind, a (chloroformed) handkerchief clutched in his hand.
With no answer, Jin-wook and Yi-deum fear the worst, and they order a trace to be placed on Hyun-tae’s license plate number—at the same time as Hyun-tae loads an unconscious Ah-reum into the back of his van. On the hunt for Ah-reum using her tracker bracelet, the two prosecutors catch sight of Hyun-tae as he crosses the road right in front of them in his van.
Jin-wook’s face twists, and he drives straight on, heading for a collision.
Well this case is disturbing. Hyun-tae’s smile in particular gave me the shivers, as if he expected Ah-reum to be happy in this creepy “love” fantasy that he concocted. It was unclear if Hyun-tae realized the extent of his delusion, given that he thinks Ah-reum is “his,” but that is the point—he never viewed Ah-reum as a person, but as an object for him to play with. And in Ah-reum, we have another strong portrayal of a victim, this time an abused child. The confrontation between Ah-reum and Hyun-tae at the hospital was a particularly effective scene.
Although it would have been physically easy for Ah-reum to get away from Hyun-tae, her debilitating fear stopped her, and the music and camera shots did an excellent job of building the claustrophobic atmosphere for the viewer. It was also the perfect choice to keep the focus on Ah-reum after Hyun-tae was pulled away, because even after he is gone, there is little relief to be found for her. We can see how Ah-reum’s world has become smaller because of Hyun-tae—literally smaller because she doesn’t travel outside, and figuratively smaller because she is consumed by the fear of her abuser.
However, despite appreciating the strong characterization that Witch’s Court brings to its victims, I can’t help but think that it’s missing the mark with its perpetrators. The last two criminals have been a tad melodramatic, and today Hyun-tae was one twirling mustache away from tying Ah-reum to an old railroad track. The show’s exaggerated villainy undermines one of the scariest things about sexual assaults, or child abuse-and that is how depressingly common these crimes are. It is not the maniacally laughing villain who elaborately plots these crimes, but your colleague, your neighbor, the person you would least suspect. I was hopeful at the start that this show would shine a light on the unspoken dangers in society, not just the evil outliers, and would like to see more nuance in the criminal characters as we go forward.
I actually thought this show was strongest in its premiere, when it addressed the everyday misogyny that Yi-deum faced, rather than the laser focus it has applied to these last cases. The show seems more interested in developing the mystery and weekly cases, but I connected so much with Yi-deum’s professional struggles with workplace sexism that I’m disappointed that that hasn’t featured more in recent weeks. I am glad that this has left space for Jin-wook’s development though, who is such a sweetheart, because he hasn’t had as much to do in the shadow of Yi-deum’s outspoken (and badass) personality.
Jin-wook’s reason for becoming a prosecutor doesn’t surprise me one little bit, although it was interesting to see that it didn’t come from an untested academic desire for justice, when I honestly thought it might have. In fact, Jin-wook’s conviction in his responsibility comes from the opposite—he has already witnessed firsthand how poorly served victims are, and wants to be the one to help turn that tide. (Although I do think that in the case of Ah-reum, he would have been more helpful as her psychiatrist than prosecutor.)
Until this point, Jin-wook has seemed to be tightly in control of his emotions, and his resolve as a prosecutor unquestioned, but after this week I wonder if he is too emotionally invested. He is clearly still haunted by his “failure” to protect Ah-reum all those years ago, and he was far too quick to resort to violence against Hyun-tae for my liking. Even if it was satisfying, Jin-wook is still a prosecutor, and he needs to have moral authority. And apart from that, Jin-wook will find it a very difficult burden to bear in the Crimes Against Girls Unit if he takes on too much responsibility and doesn’t learn to step back when necessary. Hopefully, I don’t have to worry about that though, because in a refreshing move, Jin-wook went straight to Yi-deum to ask for help on the case rather than choose the renegade option, which I feared he would. And you know our girl Yi-deum will have no problem pulling Jin-wook away from a tricky case if she needs to.
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