Life on Mars: Episode 11
The team is getting closer to the killer and Tae-joo is getting closer to the truth of his childhood. But there’s a fox among the chickens, and it will take a sly wit to lure him out of hiding. Between Tae-joo’s coldblooded whistleblowing and a loose cannon in the way though, the rising tension on the team might just be the opportunity for the killer to get away. Let’s hope our trusty (enough) detectives can make up in time before bad goes to worse.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
A subdued parade of police officers watches as murder victim Gil-soo is carried out of the morgue. Head detective Kyung-se pointedly stops the procession before Yong-ki on their way out, his head low. Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to let him take care of this, since a prime suspect has now been killed.
Kyung-se has other plans though, and doesn’t trust Dong-chul to write the report on what happened here today. He is satisfied when Tae-joo volunteers instead, but from the tight look on Dong-chul’s face and Yong-ki’s downcast one, the rest of the team isn’t too happy about this.
What to include in the report about Yong-ki’s actions weighs heavily on Tae-joo’s mind, but a phone call (that goes noticeably unanswered by the rest of the team) interrupts his decision. The mysterious voice on the other end greets Tae-joo by name, and tells him he understands that Tae-joo must be having a hard time.
But, the voice adds, “The mission has to be accomplished.” He refuses to tell Tae-joo who he is, and warns, “The problem lies inside. If you find a solution to that, you will be able to come back home.” He hangs up.
Tae-joo repeats to himself that the problem lies inside… and turns to study each of his unsuspecting team members with new eyes.
The ever diligent Na-young finds a quiet corner to listen to the recording of the last minutes of Gil-soo’s life (with a side of re-enacting his death throes) and tells Tae-joo that she thinks the killer actually knew Gil-soo.
Brainstorming together, Na-young and Tae-joo figure out that due to the precise timing, the killer must have been waiting for Gil-soo to be arrested and known the police process beforehand. And even though the killer would have had to walk through a crowded hallway, no one thought he was a suspect. Which can mean only one thing—the killer works inside the police station.
Ruthless in his pursuit of the truth, Tae-joo interrogates each of his team members, starting with an irate Dong-chul. Tae-joo promises to check up on his alibi, before moving on to Yong-ki and a visibly tense Nam-shik. Tone hard, Tae-joo asks why it took so long for Yong-ki to come back to the room, and accuses him of communicating with the killer.
Dong-chul has had enough. He stops the interrogation, and orders Yong-ki outside with the now-crying Nam-shik. And then he shocks Tae-joo by telling him that of course he knows the suspect works inside the police station. He has been working as a police officer for twenty years, after all, and knows when to trust his instincts.
But that doesn’t mean he can stand silently by as Tae-joo treats Yong-ki and Nam-shik like criminals. Tae-joo doesn’t back down, and tells Dong-chul that since Na-young was at the hospital and his alibi checked out, Nam-shik and Yong-ki are prime suspects right now. Tae-joo doesn’t even back down when a furious Dong-chul yells that he raised those two, and knows they wouldn’t do this.
Instead, Tae-joo stresses, they must first get rid of their suspicions. Because the killer is counting on dissension in the ranks to manipulate the situation. Tae-joo unbends slightly as he asks Dong-chul genuinely whether he would prefer him to stop. Backed into a corner, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that the alternative is worse—because if Kyung-se leads the investigation, he will just arrest anyone to close the case.
Tae-joo finishes his report. The mood is somber as the team tensely watches Tae-joo hand it over to Kyung-se. None of them knows what it contains.
In the meantime, Tae-joo and Na-young return to investigating Kim Bok-rye’s murder, now without Yong-ki or Nam-shik who have been removed from the case. Going over what they know so far—that Bok-rye abused Min-seok for a long time, and her injuries matched those inflicted upon him by her—they theorize that she may have been killed in revenge.
Further than that, nearly all the murders have had clear motive—Gil-soo was murdered to cover Bok-rye’s death and Dad was killed as the witness to Go Yeong-seok’s murder. Which means that Yeong-suk must have been killed for a reason too, although Tae-joo adds that her death was more than that. The killer enjoyed watching her die a slow death. The reason was a very personal one.
Yong-ki storms into the station and throws a balled-up piece of paper at Tae-joo’s head, asking what he put into the report. Whatever it was, it has resulted in Yong-ki being kicked off the force, and Nam-shik suspended. Unrelenting in the face of Yong-ki’s fury, Tae-joo states that he just wrote the truth.
Which nearly turns the encounter into a brawl, in front of a rapt audience. Only when Dong-chul steps in does the tension simmer down.
Dong-chul orders Nam-shik and the recalcitrant Yong-ki to take a few days off while the mess is resolved. Dong-chul turns to Tae-joo and tells him the Bok-rye case is closed since the suspect has been killed.
Tae-joo stutters in disbelief, and asks what this means about Dad and Yeong-suk’s murders since he is convinced they were committed by the same person. Dong-chul spits back that he’s the only one who thinks that, and punches the murder board in exasperation as he walks away.
One police officer in particular watches the public scene unfold with interest—and smirks.
Dispirited, Tae-joo has to listen to two police officers grumble that he’s just messing everything up. Even his relationship with Na-young is strained now as she quietly tells him the form she is holding is a petition against Yong-ki’s punishment. Dong-chul scorns that Tae-joo doesn’t even care that one of his fellow officers is being fired.
His pariah status cemented, Tae-joo looks glum. The same officer from before spies the interaction, and introduces himself to Tae-joo as Lee Soon-ho. Soon-ho tells Tae-joo that he supports what Tae-joo did, so he shouldn’t be too discouraged.
Na-young is definitely disappointed with Tae-joo. She gently requests that Tae-joo tell Kyung-se it was an accident, pleading Yong-ki’s case for him. When Tae-joo repeats his old line that he just presented the facts, Na-young corrects him, “The truth is more important than the facts sometimes.”
A seemingly nonchalant Dong-chul (who has actually been listening keenly the entire time) catches Tae-joo’s eye meaningfully.
Trying to clear his head, Tae-joo stops by Mom’s beauty salon to scrub away the nasty accusations people graffitied on her wall. Mom comes out, surprised and slightly embarrassed to find Tae-joo doing such menial work for her.
But Tae-joo came over for a reason beyond scrubbing walls. Yearning for comfort, the question slips out unbidden as he asks Mom, “Am I doing a good job?” Mom didn’t quite hear though, and Tae-joo covers by presenting her with bananas for young Tae-joo.
Back at the bar, Tae-joo drinks alone. Dong-chul and Yong-ki come in, and although Yong-ki is less than pleased to see Tae-joo, Dong-chul orders Tae-joo to quit pretending to be sad and join them. He walks over, eyeballing Yong-ki in a challenge and tells him he has something to say. Yong-ki sneers that he should go tell it to the moon and starts to walk away.
When Tae-joo tries to stop him, Yong-ki hits him right in the face. Even though it hasn’t gone well, Dong-chul smiles as if he’s pleased.
With nowhere else to go, Tae-joo goes back to work at the station. Na-young finds him there, and Tae-joo brightens immediately with hope. She hands over the list of calls—the mysterious phone call from earlier came from Seoul, though Tae-joo waves it off as a prank.
About to leave, Na-young changes her mind and offers to help Tae-joo with the case instead. She clarifies that she’s only doing this to help Yong-ki, but Tae-joo accepts anyway. A tiny smile crosses his face.
As they comb through police files to find clues to who the killer could be, Tae-joo realizes that the officer must have been there the day that Dad was at the station. This narrows the pool of suspects down to twenty-five, although Lee Soon-ho is conspicuously not a part of that pile.
Tae-joo warily dials the number for the mysterious caller, and isn’t reassured as the voice refuses to answer who he is, and tells him never to call here again. Apparently, Tae-joo should “know the rules.” The voice warns him not to let the killer suspect Tae-joo or something bad will happen, and hangs up after telling Tae-joo he’ll call back sometime.
The following day, Na-young calls Tae-joo over to talk with Lee Soon-ho, the officer tasked with finding Min-seok’s orphanage. Tae-joo notices Soon-ho’s twitchy fingers, but is distracted by a brainwave as to where the killer may be hiding—as he flashes back to his pursuit of Min-seok in 2018 and the suspicious building that caught his eye in “Sung Il-ro 42-7.”
There is no such place in Insung, but Soon-ho looks distinctly concerned as Tae-joo describes the two-story house with the cross on the garage door.
Na-young is back to smiling at Tae-joo, which melts my heart as much as it must melt his. A shaken Nam-shik is back at the office, looking chastened, although Dong-chul gruffly tells him that he shouldn’t feel guilty that Yong-ki was fired while he was only suspended.
In a stomach-sinking turn of events, Tae-joo realizes that the tape of Gil-soo’s murder has disappeared. Frantic, Tae-joo and Dong-chul search for one of the only pieces of evidence left to tie the murderer to Gil-soo’s death.
A commotion outside stops the hunt, as Yong-ki drunkenly causes a ruckus. The two are connected as well, as Yong-ki maliciously holds up the missing tape. He slurs that he isn’t the only cop to beat a prisoner, and he has paid too highly for his mistake. When Nam-shik tries to calm him down, Yong-ki punches him.
To Tae-joo and Dong-chul’s dismay, Yong-ki reveals in front of the crowd that Gil-soo’s last moments with the murderer are on the tape. Dong-chul tries to order Yong-ki to give the tape back, eventually pushed into declaring that the tape is more important than Yong-ki’s career. Betrayed, Yong-ki runs off shouting that he won’t die alone.
Tae-joo, Dong-chul and Nam-shik creep along after Yong-ki in the car—when Dong-chul breaks out in a big grin and compliments Yong-ki’s acting skills. It was a fake-out!
We flash back to the night that Yong-ki punched Tae-joo. Tae-joo had gone after him and offered, “Keep punching me until your anger melts away.” They came up with the plan together, with Dong-chul, to lure out the real culprit. Poor Nam-shik and his bloody nose was just collateral damage.
Back to the (1988) present, Yong-ki signals with his hand and the team pulls to a stop. They wait as Yong-ki “stumbles” down an alleyway, but start to get nervous as time passes and he doesn’t come out or answer his radio. Making their way to him, Yong-ki’s hoarse voice calls out down the radio. He sounds hurt.
The three officers race to find Yong-ki collapsed on the ground with a bloody head, caught unawares by the culprit. Yong-ki didn’t see his face (though we see it is Soon-ho), but did stab him in the side with a piece of broken glass after he took the incriminating tape from Yong-ki.
While Dong-chul affectionately pats Yong-ki for a job well done (hurting him even more, oops), Tae-joo chases after Soon-ho. Despite Soon-ho’s wound, he manages to give Tae-joo the slip in the crowded streets.
Yong-ki will be fine, though Nam-shik still fusses cutely over him as Dr. Park fixes him up. Unfortunately, Soon-ho was smart enough to use gloves so the weapon he used to hit Yong-ki with won’t yield any clues.
Nam-shik wails that he must find the culprit, since Yong-ki is unlikely to get married now that he’s in this state (lol). Yong-ki grumbles that it sounds like an insult, but he’s touched anyway.
Tae-joo is forced to admit that the culprit got away, and must have realized by now that the tape was a fake. He reassures a needlessly ashamed Yong-ki that he shouldn’t feel guilty for not catching the culprit since he obtained the necessary evidence (blood on the glass) to find out who it is.
Haha, and then Dong-chul tries to wish Yong-ki a speedy recovery and awkwardly give him a hug. Yong-ki rebuffs his effort, and Dong-chul backs off, abashed. Not quite finished, Dong-chul shoos Tae-joo towards Yong-ki. Tae-joo and Yong-ki’s hands waver, as if reaching for the other. Aaaaand Tae-joo chickens out and runs off. Yong-ki huffs that he knew Tae-joo would be like that. I’m dying here.
Tae-joo and Dong-chul agree to call over all the suspects still left, figuring that whoever doesn’t show up must be the culprit. But all seventeen do show up. Even after Dong-chul goes a little mad, ordering everyone’s shirts off to check for chest wounds, it’s clear that the culprit isn’t here.
So they have to go through the list of men, checking everyone’s story instead. One man tries to sneak off, saying that it’s his shift on guard, and his reluctance to stay in the room sparks Dong-chul’s suspicions. Dong-chul finally winkles it out of the man that he wasn’t actually on duty the day he said he was—Lee Soon-ho took that shift instead.
Tae-joo recognizes the name, and realizes it was the man who encouraged him from before. The blood results come back in and Dong-chul excitedly exclaims the culprit is type B—just like Soon-ho is.
Dong-chul brusquely hands the phone over to Tae-joo (because he understands science speak) because the blood results also found streptococcus in his blood. Streptococcus, which can cause pneumonia and asthma. They’ve found their guy.
Tae-joo puts all the pieces together now—Soon-ho’s shaking hand, to the day Dad was shot and we see the killer raise his head, and the man who found young Tae-joo in the tunnels—it was actually Soon-ho. That’s a lot of threads tied together.
Dong-chul and Tae-joo briskly search the station for Soon-ho, and rush over to his house to find him… and he never actually lived there. “Soon-ho” stole the real Soon-ho’s identity to apply to the police force, knowing he would be accepted immediately due to his credentials. Smart. And infuriating.
Dong-chul and Tae-joo trawl through Soon-ho’s case files to try and find a clue where to find him. Turns out Soon-ho became a cop to look for a kid—and in an unnerving coincidence, he transferred to Insung on the exact date that Tae-joo did.
Nam-shik rushes in, flustered because he has learned that Na-young was the last person to talk to Soon-ho before he left work. Which reminds Tae-joo that he was going to meet her at City Hall at six o’clock, a plan that Soon-ho had definitely overheard.
Tae-joo prepares to go, but Dong-chul points out it’s already past seven o’clock. Tae-joo didn’t turn his clock forward for daylight savings time, because it’s no longer observed in modern South Korea (it was actually abolished just after 1988). Uh-oh.
The team races over to City Hall, hoping to catch Na-young in spite of the late hour. When they arrive though, it’s clear they are too late—a crowd has gathered round, the police files are strewn on the desk… and Na-young’s purse lies abandoned on the floor.
Tae-joo carefully picks up Na-young’s police notebook, her fastidious notes on Sung Il-ro covering the last page. Tae-joo remembers what the mysterious voice warned him of—if Tae-joo moved too rashly, it would only make the problem worse.
Oh, if only Tae-joo had met Na-young on time—she and Soon-ho didn’t disappear until 7:10 p.m. The security guard was taking a break as well, and didn’t see where the two went. Dong-chul despairs that there are no witnesses, and figures that Soon-ho must have used a car to get away so cleanly. He orders Nam-shik to set up car checkpoints across Insung.
Dong-chul finds a cloth handkerchief covered in chloroform, which they deduce must have been used to subdue Na-young. Even then, she struggled, and as Soon-ho dragged her away, one of her shoes came off.
Tae-joo blames himself putting Na-young in danger, haunted by the eerie similarity to ex-fiancée Jung Seo-hyun’s abduction in 2018. Cold rage in his eyes, Tae-joo vows, “It’s the same as last time. But this time, I’m going to find him no matter what happens.”
It’s an almost complete re-enactment of Seo-hyun’s abduction, as Tae-joo is convinced that the house on the hill is where Na-young is being kept. Tae-joo determinedly runs through the streets trying to find the garage with the cross on the door. As he gets closer and closer to the place, Tae-joo’s eyes blur and images of chasing adult Min-seok in 2018 run through his mind. Tae-joo weakens against the wall… It’s deja-vu as he flashes back to the alley he was shot in.
Nooo, not Na-young! Bring her back! Show, I am telling you right now, if anything happens to her sweet little face I’m going to be very cross with you.
As if all the anxiety I’m feeling for Na-young isn’t enough, on top of that I am totally bewildered. Does the neighborhood just look very similar to the one that Seo-hyun was taken to because “Soon-ho” has a type of house he likes? Or is it actually the same place that Seo-hyun was taken to, which is in Seoul? If it is, does that mean this is all a dream in Tae-joo’s mind that has manifested to work through his present-day problems?
Yet again, we have been given a tightly constructed mystery, with enough clues peppered throughout the series until now to point to the killer being a cop. It makes sense that the killer was able to evade the police so well when he had inside knowledge of their movements, and experience in the processes. Never mind the fact that “Soon-ho” was the one to find young Tae-joo in the tunnels, because he knew which way the boy had run as Dad chased him. It never crossed my mind when it happened, though looking back at it now, the show did actually take the time to linger on Soon-ho, so kudos to them.
I do have some slight niggles about this episode though. Tae-joo has been consistently fantastic at detective work, but in this episode he doesn’t suspect that Soon-ho might be a bit off when he comes forward to encourage Tae-joo while literally everyone else in the police station hates his guts—and he also discloses important information about the case in front of Soon-ho. I can hand wave this away a little because Tae-joo at that point doesn’t believe Soon-ho is one of the twenty-five cops suspected. But he didn’t know Soon-ho at all, he DID know there was a killer among their ranks, and he is normally such a rigidly by-the-book officer. Maybe I’m being harsh here, but Tae-joo brought these high expectations on himself by being so sharp normally—and damnit, I want Na-young back safe!
In a nice contrast to last week, Tae-joo is back to his old ways this episode. I do think his motivation was slightly different this time in that he wanted to keep the report away from the clearly corrupt Kyung-se to protect the team—but he still doggedly stuck to principles that could have ended badly for Yong-ki. Kyung-se wanted an easy fall-guy and Tae-joo handed Yong-ki to him on a platter. Tae-joo reverted to his default detached persona when writing the report on Yong-ki and Gil-soo, and I strongly suspect it’s because he let Dad’s death cloud his judgment. Tae-joo is so focused on catching Dad’s killer that all the soft edges he has recently developed have been sharpened again—and let’s face it, he never really liked Yong-ki anyway. With the mysterious Seoul caller’s warning a bug in his ear as well, it’s no wonder he turned on Yong-ki.
It was still somewhat disappointing though, and in no small part because it hurt to see the team and whole precinct ostracize him. Tae-joo has managed to build trust here, become a part of a proper team, which was never possible for him in 2018. Aaaand that’s why it affected Tae-joo so much that he had to go run to Mom for comfort (aww) when they shut their doors on him. The fact that Dong-chul, for the most part, was disappointed rather than explosively angry at Tae-joo (as he would have been in Episode 1) speaks volumes. And the soft but stubborn approbation from Na-young was rather gut-wrenching. Thankfully, he took to heart her sentiment that the truth is more important than facts, and just in time as well. It was actually pretty sweet that the team was so quick to forgive Tae-joo when he made it right. I even liked Yong-ki in this episode! Let’s have more hangout scenes please.
Mystery of the episode: How many tape recorders do you think they go through at this police station? They sure do seem to get broken a lot. Mostly by Dong-chul.
Tune of the episode: “The Two of Us” by Sanulrim played over the top of the bar meeting between Yong-ki and Tae-joo. It added a suitably melancholic note to Yong-ki’s total life breakdown.