Life on Mars: Episode 14
Life is about choices and the time has come for Tae-joo to choose. As conflicting narratives come into focus, Tae-joo is going to have to decide what to believe and face the consequences that could impact not only the 1988 timeline, but his 2018 fate as well.
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Tae-joo gets a medical update via snowy TV and hears that he’ll be waking up soon. Mom’s voice comes through promising to never give up and urging him to do the same. Tae-joo thanks her and then the phone rings—Chief Ahn wants to see him.
At the office, Chief Ahn pulls out a photo of Dong-chul’s friend, Detective Shin, dead in his car. He coolly states that the body was found an hour ago and that a witness had seen Dong-chul at the scene. What’s more, he ran away with an unknown man before the police arrived.
Chief Ahn is suspicious and asks where Dong-chul is. Tae-joo claims not to know and Chief Ahn lets it drop. Tae-joo asks for details on Detective Shin’s death and learns that the police believe he committed suicide to cover up his transgressions.
Chief Ahn pulls out a bankbook and tells Tae-joo that Insung Construction—a shady company that used to run under Oh Jung-man (the gangster arrested for murder back in Episode 9). The bankbook belongs to Detective Shin’s daughter and has received regular deposits from Insung Construction.
Insung City is in the process of redevelopment and those deposits were for Detective Shin to look the other way on Insung Construction’s “business.” Chief Ahn adds that there’s evidence that Chief Kim was also receiving bribes. He suggests that Tae-joo keep his distance from Dong-chul and the others.
A man comes to collect Chief Ahn, but Tae-joo stops him to ask what his reason is for coming here. With a cryptic smile, Chief Ahn answers that Tae-joo already knows why. Tae-joo presses and Chief Ahn replies, “After this case is closed, let’s go home together.”
He tells Tae-joo to hang on a little longer, and takes his leave. Na-young shuffles up behind Tae-joo, her tiger mascot suit dangling from her fingers. Her voice is tired when she calls out to him, and he immediately relieves her of her bag and the mascot head.
Na-young asks about Dong-chul and Tae-joo says he’s been found and is with Yong-ki and Nam-shik. She wonders if he’s heard about Detective Shin’s death and Tae-joo admits the two of them were at the scene earlier.
They go into the office and Na-young sits on her desk while Tae-joo fetches her a glass of water. When he returns and props himself against the adjoining desk, she asks if he’s really planning on going back. Na-young admits that she overheard Chief Ahn telling him they’d return when the case was closed.
Tae-joo swallows and looks away, unable to answer. Na-young pushes forward, saying she thought he’d finally come to like it here. She guesses she was wrong, and asks if he still hates this place. Tae-joo quickly denies it, but when asked why he’s still leaving he says, “I can’t stay here forever.”
Tae-joo says he has to return and Na-young ducks her head, staring at her hands. Tae-joo apologizes, but Na-young says it’s nothing to be sorry about… but her voice wavers and she doesn’t look him in the face.
She redirects attention to the duffel she was carrying and says that it’s extra clothes Dong-chul’s wife packed for him. Quickly swiping a tear from her eye, Na-young asks Tae-joo to deliver it before excusing herself for the night. Oof, my heart.
Heading over to the health center, Tae-joo finds Yong-ki standing outside the examination room keeping guard while Dong-chul is with Detective Shin’s body. Nam-shik has bought them a little time by taking the actual guard out drinking. Tae-joo heads into the autopsy room to find Dong-chul sprawled on the floor, soju in hand.
Tae-joo suggests that they leave as Chief Ahn could come in at any moment, but Dong-chul snaps that he’s not afraid. Sighing, Tae-joo reveals that Chief Ahn thinks Dong-chul is involved in both Chief Kim and Detective Shin’s deaths.
Dong-chul laughs ruefully that Chief Ahn thinks he killed Detective Shin, but Tae-joo corrects him that it’s been written off as a suicide. Snapping to attention, Dong-chul asks what he means. Tae-joo repeats what Chief Ahn had said about the bribes. Dong-chul grows irate and grabs Tae-joo’s collar, shouting that Detective Shin never accepted so much as a free cup of coffee throughout his carreer.
Tae-joo lets Dong-chul shout and then reasons that it’s possible Detective Shin wanted to leave something behind for his daughter. He continues that Detective Shin had confessed to having cancer and less than a year left to live. Tears stream down Dong-chul’s face as Tae-joo admits that Detective Shin hadn’t wanted him to know.
Defeated, Dong-chul mutters that life isn’t fair. He stumbles over to the autopsy table just as Yong-ki scrambles inside to say Chief Ahn is coming down the hall. A detective bangs on the door and demands that Dong-chul come out. Chief Ahn orders the door be broken down, but Tae-joo spots the soju bottles on the floor and throws one at the outlet—successfully shorting out the building’s power.
The hallway goes dark and a man bursts out of the autopsy room and tears off down the hallway. The two detectives with Chief Ahn give chase but he pauses to peek inside the autopsy room—but it’s empty!
Chief Ahn races after the others and as soon as he’s gone, the door of one of the cold lockers bursts open and Dong-chul and Tae-joo roll out. Tae-joo worries about Yong-ki (who ran out as a decoy) but Dong-chul assures him Yong-ki knows the area better than anyone.
Despite Tae-joo’s concerns, Dong-chul insists on accompanying him to the station to see Detective Shin’s bankbook himself. Tae-joo is anxious, but follows anyway and sends the station guard out for a break so Dong-chul can sneak back into his office.
Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul has his keys for the locked drawer on the desk and he assures him he does… before just ripping the drawer out with sheer strength. Heh.
Tae-joo says Detective Shin is their prime suspect for Chief Kim’s death since he’s the only person other than Dong-chul and the thief they’ve confirmed at the scene. His voice softens and he adds that he knows it’s a rough situation, but Dong-chul needs to set aside personal feelings if he wants to clear his name.
To Tae-joo’s horror, Dong-chul tears out a page of the report. Dong-chul points out he’s already wanted for murder, so theft is nothing. He’s ready to investigate and Tae-joo shoves everything back into the drawers before joining him. Unfortunately, Chief Ahn has just returned and Tae-joo only has a moment to shove Dong-chul in a corner and throw him Na-young’s mascot suit.
Tae-joo steps up to distract Chief Ahn, saying he heard Dong-chul was spotted and asking if they’d caught him. Chief Ahn grumbles that despite his looks, Dong-chul is sly and managed to evade them. Dong-chul—clad in Na-young’s tiger suit—stumbles out to join them as Tae-joo agrees that Dong-chul is a “cunning scumbag.” Hehe.
If Chief Ahn finds them suspicious, he doesn’t say anything, even as Tae-joo introduces the very tall tiger as Na-young. After a curt nod, Chief Ahn shuts himself in his office and the two detectives hustle out of there. In the hall, two passing officers slap Dong-chul on the butt and Tae-joo has to hold him back as he grumbles, “He touched me. He wants to fight the tiger!”
Dong-chul and Tae-joo reinvestigate Chief Ahn’s house and Tae-joo runs back through the crime. The killer murdered Chief Kim in the bath with his award plaque and turned on the hot water to disguise his time of death, which was actually around 3:00 a.m., rather than 4:00.
At 3:30 a.m., Dong-chul had drunkenly burst in and immediately passed out on the couch. The killer had wiped everything he touched clean, and then reapplied Dong-chul’s fingerprints to the murder weapon. Afterwards, the burglar, Oh Yong-tae, had arrived and seen the culprit leaving.
The only thing the men can’t figure out is why Detective Shin would murder Chief Kim… or stay at the scene for an extra half hour afterwards. Tae-joo wonders if he was searching for something and remembers how he’d seen Detective Shin rifling through Yong-tae’s house before they’d all chased the thief down.
Yong-tae is still in custody, so they have him released. Yong-tae is dubious… and rightly so as Dong-chul jumps him as soon as he’s free. Tae-joo disapproves of Dong-chul knocking the guy out, but Dong-chul points out he’s already seen them together and it would be bad if he told Chief Ahn.
Nam-shik joins them, having finished covering Yong-tae’s release. They wake the thief and demand that he show them everything he stole from Chief Kim. Unfortunately, someone is already ransacking Yong-tae’s place when they arrive.
Nam-shik rushes in too early and the intruder manages to push past. Dong-chul and Tae-joo give chase and Dong-chul finds the intruder first. They scuffle and Dong-chul spots a gang tattoo on the man’s back before he escapes again.
Running after him, Dong-chul meets Tae-joo in the alley moments before a car comes careening towards them. They jump out of the way just in time, but they lose the intruder, who Dong-chul reveals is part of the Seobu Gang.
Nam-shik joins them and they ask what he did with Yong-tae. Nam-shik assures them he cuffed Yong-tae to a gas tank, but he’s gone by the time they return. Fortunately, Yong-tae hasn’t gotten far as the gas tank is heavy. They easily find him shuffling down a nearby alley and drag him back to the house.
Yong-tae piles everything he stole in the middle of the room, but admits the ledger is missing. He adds how it was strange how carefully Chief Kim had hidden it and wonders where it went. Since the gang member tonight was empty-handed, the Tae-joo realizes Detective Shin must’ve taken it.
Tae-joo and Dong-chul start to leave and Nam-shik wonders what to do with Yong-tae. Dong-chul says Yong-tae admitted to stealing everything, so of course he’ll go back to jail. After confirming Yong-tae will keep his mouth shut about Dong-chul, they have Nam-shik lock him back up.
Unfortunately, Detective Shin’s place is crawling with cops, so Dong-chul and Tae-joo head back home. Nam-shik joins them later and flinches when he sees Yong-ki, who’s coated in mud and grass after leading the cops on a wild goose chase. Everyone, including Na-young, is seated around the table eating dinner by candlelight.
Yong-ki compliments Na-young’s cooking and assures Tae-joo that the officers are searching in the opposite direction of his house. Dong-chul affectionately places kimchi in everyone’s bowls and it’s such a warm moment, Tae-joo’s face breaks into a rare smile.
Afterwards, the team huddles up and Dong-chul says they need to wrap this case up quickly. He asks about his family and Na-young assures him that they’re doing well, and believe in him. Yong-ki wonders why the Seobu gang is involved when they supposedly broke up after their leader, Oh Jung-man, was arrested.
Nam-shik says the members regrouped to become Insung Construction. Oh Jung-man’s position as CEO was passed on to a relative of Chief Kim. Na-young adds that when Insung Construction was investigated, Jung-man was arrested for fraud but Chief Kim had all the charges dismissed. Additionally, the officer in charge was Detective Shin.
During the investigation, the ledger was one of the items confiscated and Dong-chul guesses that’s why the Seobu Gang is involved now. Tae-joo promises to check whether Chief Ahn has found the ledger tomorrow.
After everyone has left, Tae-joo finds Dong-chul sitting quietly in the corner, drinking soju. Tae-joo suggests that they go to bed, but Dong-chul says he has too much to think about. Tae-joo pours them both a drink and then admits that he’s never trusted anyone his whole life.
Tae-joo:“I always thought that I was the only person who was right. Then… I lost the only person who trusted me. Maybe that’s why I am they way I am now.”
Tae-joo says that unlike him, Dong-chul has a lot of people who trust in him—Tae-joo included. Realizing Tae-joo is trying to cheer him up, Dong-chul snorts that Tae-joo must be dying soon. Tae-joo snipes that Dong-chul is the one acting weak. Chuckling softly, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to hush up and drink.
The next morning, Tae-joo hears his 2018 doctor discussing his surgery with Doctor Ahn, who says Tae-joo needs to remain mentally stable for the surgery to be a success. “You’ll undergo surgery soon,” Doctor Ahn says, “You have to trust me until then.”
Getting up, Tae-joo realizes Dong-chul is not with him and dials Na-young. He tells her Dong-chul has disappeared without a word again and to inform Nam-shik and Yong-ki as well. No sooner does he hang up than there’s a knock at the door.
Chief Ahn greets him with a smile and they relocate to the pier. Chief Ahn admits that he’s known all along Tae-joo and Dong-chul were together. Tae-joo wonders why he feigned ignorance. Chief Ahn says he was worried about Tae-joo and if he’d forgotten where he came from.
Tae-joo assures him he knows where he’s from and asks when Chief Ahn will bring him home. Chief Ahn replies, “When the risk factors are gone.” His words mirror 2018 Doctor Ahn’s and Chief Ahn slids over a file of bribery allegations, saying it’s a report on Dong-chul.
Tae-joo opens it to find a bankbook set up the same way as Detective Shin’s. Tossing the file in the backseat, Tae-joo says it’s impossible. Chief Ahn points out that Dong-chul is looking for the ledger and admits that he hasn’t found it yet, either. However, Chief Ahn says Dong-chul’s name will be in the ledger, along with multiple other officers from their station.
Concerned about Tae-joo’s relationship with Dong-chul, Chief Ahn asserts that Dong-chul is “volatile” and there’s no knowing when he’ll “burst.” Tae-joo takes it as a metaphor for his surgery and asks if Chief Ahn means for him to eliminate Dong-chul in order for his operation to succeed.
Tae-joo explains that Doctor Ahn had said they needed to remove the “risk factors” in order for the surgery to be successful and Tae-joo to wake up. He insists that they’re in his dream while he lies in a hospital bed and Chief Ahn is really the surgeon who’s going to help him wake up.
Shaking his head, Chief Ahn sighs that he’d heard Tae-joo had been in a car accident the day he arrived. He tells Tae-joo to snap out of it: “You came here from Central to perform an internal audit.”
Tae-joo argues that he’s from the forensic branch and this is all just a dream. However, he suddenly seems unsure. As if trying to convince himself, Tae-joo shouts that it’s a dream while repeatedly pounding his fist into the roof of the car. Staring at his throbbing hand, Tae-joo extracts himself from the car.
Chief Ahn joins him and hands over Tae-joo’s initial report on the audit. Flipping it open, Tae-joo stares at Dong-chul’s profile. Chief Ahn tells him to check who wrote it and Tae-joo’s own name glares back at him.
“You started all this,” Chief Ahn says, “Do you get it now?” He barks that Tae-joo is not from the forensic branch, but the Seoul Central Investigative Agency. Staring at Chief Ahn in disbelief, Tae-joo flashes back to Kim Hyun-seok warning him not to trust the man who called him.
Tae-joo asks how he can trust Chief Ahn and the older man shouts that he’s the one who sent Tae-joo here. He reiterates that this is not a dream and urges Tae-joo to pull himself together. Tae-joo doesn’t accept it and tears up the report, tossing it into the water.
Returning to the station, Tae-joo makes a beeline for his file. Pulling out the transfer notice, he’s dismayed to find Chief Ahn’s name on the signature line. Voices from 2018 and 1988 mingle together from different devices, repeating conflicting truths.
Tae-joo’s 2018 doctor shouts that his vitals are going haywire, calling for Doctor Ahn. The detective from the TV program whispers that it’s okay for Tae-joo to give up if everything is hard while another voice tells him not to believe anything, as they’re all lies.
Papers fly into the air as Tae-joo’s heartbeat drowns out the voices. Na-young arrives and stares at the papers scattered all across the floor. She addresses him and Tae-joo snaps out of his stupor long enough to glance down at the crumpled transfer notice in his hand before collapsing to the floor.
Tae-joo wakes up at the health clinic and Manager Park snaps at him to take better care of himself. Sitting up, Tae-joo sees his wound—from Hyun-seok stabbing him on the bridge—has been redressed. Manager Park says Tae-joo overexerted himself, resulting in the wound reopening and becoming infected.
Manager Park tells him to rest and leaves as Na-young walks in. She asks if he’s okay and he starts to agree, but then admits he’s in pain. He asks her why he’s still dreaming, or if this is actually reality. Tae-joo’s confused and looks lost as he asks if he’s gone crazy.
Na-young reminds him that you can’t feel anything if you’re not alive and places his hand on her heart—just as she’d done when he’d first come and tried to jump off the roof. She asks if he still doesn’t feel anything and Tae-joo stares up into her eyes for a few beats before pulling back.
Tae-joo reveals that Chief Ahn showed him something but he doesn’t know how to take it. He tells Na-young he’s not sure what’s the truth or what he should believe.
Na-young:“Listen to the sound of your heart instead of using your eyes to see. The truth lies there. Just like it has always been.”
Yong-ki and Nam-shik come in to check on Tae-joo and report that while they still haven’t heard from Dong-chul, Chief Ahn hasn’t found him either. Unfortunately, the Seobu Gang is on the hunt for Dong-chul as well.
Nam-shik sighs that Dong-chul should’ve included them in his plans, but Na-young thinks he was trying to protect them. Tae-joo is sure Dong-chul is searching for the ledger and urges the other two to keep looking for him.
Ripping out his IV, Tae-joo starts to leave as well, but Na-young worries that he shouldn’t be moving around yet. Tae-joo says that he plans to listen to her advice and find the truth for himself.
Tae-joo and Na-young try searching Detective Shin’s place first. Spotting the keys Detective Shin had given to Dong-chul under the table, Tae-joo knows that Dong-chul was there. However, since Dong-chul hasn’t called, he must not have found the ledger.
When they’d arrested the thief Yong-tae, Tae-joo remembers that Detective Shin had excused himself to go home. He realizes that Detective Shin must’ve already had the ledger, but he died before ever coming home that day. Which means the ledger is hidden elsewhere.
Na-young wonders if it’s in the car so they go to investigate. Unfortunately, there’s no ledger to be found but Tae-joo does discover a tape recorder hidden under the steering wheel. They hit play and Detective Shin’s voice tells Dong-chul he’s sorry, and that this is all he can do for him.
“I hope you’ll prove your innocence with this,” Detective Shin says before replacing the recorder in its hiding place. They then hear someone enter the car and a new voice asks if Detective Shin found the list. Detective Shin demands to know why the other man framed Dong-chul for Chief Kim’s murder… and why Chief Kim had to be killed at all.
The other man simply replies he just did what had to be done. Detective Shin says Tae-joo is suspicious and the other man replies that he’ll take care of it. By now, Na-young and Tae-joo have identified the mystery voice as belonging to Chief Ahn and he asks where Detective Shin hid the ledger.
Detective Shin assures him it’s in a safe place only he knows about, and promises to hand it over when Dong-chul is cleared. Chief Ahn warns him not to make matters worse for everyone but Detective Shin adamantly demands that Dong-chul be removed from the wanted list.
Chief Ahn says he believes Detective Shin hid the list well and asks if anyone else knows its whereabouts. Detective Shin confirms he’s the only one and Chief Ahn greasily reasons that if Detective Shin is gone, no one will ever find it… before snatching Detective Shin’s gun and shooting him in the head.
They realize Dong-chul is in danger and Tae-joo notices a small key on the key ring Detective Shin had given Dong-chul. Na-young says it looks like a drawer key and Tae-joo remembers how Detective Shin had said he’d bought a gym and would keep a locker for Dong-chul.
Tae-joo says they have to find him before Chief Ahn, and Na-young fills in the other two about the murders. Nam-shik swipes radios for each of them and they spread out to find Dong-chul. None of them is having much luck when the radio in Dong-chul’s car starts playing. Tae-joo walks over to investigate and gets run over by another car.
Tae-joo manages to get up and through the ringing in his ears, he hears a 2018 nurse shout that his cerebral artery has burst—they need to perform the surgery immediately. Shaking it off, Tae-joo turns his attention to the gangster stepping out of the car with a knife.
Even concussed, Tae-joo is a beast and quickly knocks the guy out. Na-young’s voice cries out of the radio that they’ve found Dong-chul but he’s been cornered at a warehouse by the Seobu Gang. Tae-joo tells her he’s on his way and rushes over.
He arrives to find the others fending off a horde of gangsters. Tae-joo starts to join them but Chief Ahn appears and points a gun to his head. Turning to face the gun head-on, Tae-joo guesses Chief Ahn called the gangsters and tells him to call it off.
Tae-joo accuses Chief Ahn of killing Chief Kim and Detective Shin. Chief Ahn barks at Tae-joo to wake up from his delusions and without breaking eye contact, Tae-joo places his forehead against the gun. “Kill me so I can come back to my senses.”
The evening lights-out drill blares and Tae-joo is able to wrest the gun from Chief Ahn. Tae-joo tosses Chief Ahn his cuffs and tells him to put them on. Tae-joo starts towards his team again but Chief Ahn warns him not to get close to them if he wants to return home.
He shouts that they’re “delusions” that keep Tae-joo here. Tae-joo’s ears start ringing and he hears the 2018 nurse urge him to trust Chief Ahn and then 2018 Ahn’s voice promises everything will be okay if he trusts him.
Chief Ahn pleads again for them to go home and Na-young cries for Tae-joo to help. The team is being overwhelmed and everyone is taking hits. Chief Ahn says it’s almost over. Finally, Tae-joo speaks. “Who you really are isn’t important to me,” he tells Chief Ahn, “I will believe… what’s happening before my very eyes.”
Tae-joo runs towards his friends and in 2018 we hear that the surgery is nearly over. Just as he’s about to reach the others, everything goes white… and Tae-joo wakes up in his hospital bed in 2018.
What??? We’re back? What is happening? What does this mean? Surely 1988 wasn’t just a coma dream… it’s too crazy for that! How can we be at the threshold of the finale and still have so many questions?
This show is such a roller coaster and Tae-joo sure had a lot of twists to navigate this episode. From the beginning he’s been wrestling with himself as to whether or he’s dreaming or just crazy. Chief Ahn’s arrival finally brought that inner turmoil to a head and forced Tae-joo to decide. It’s so odd that Chief Ahn in 1988 shares an identity with Doctor Ahn of 2018 and I’m not sure what the implications are.
At first, Tae-joo believes that Chief Ahn is a literal representation of the surgeon that’s going to wake him up, but nothing is as it seems in 1988. It’s possible that (if this is a coma dream) Tae-joo created Chief Ahn after hearing about him in his sleep… which could imply that everyone else has a 2018 counterpart? At least that way we aren’t completely losing the 1988 family we’ve grown to love. But at the end when Tae-joo rebelled against Chief Ahn and the voices and ran towards his friends even if that meant he might not wake up… that was beautiful and just speaks for how far Tae-joo has come from the detached intellectual of old. And why it was actually heart-wrenching when he woke up in the hospital before he could save them.
With only two episodes left, I’m really anxious to see how the show wraps things up. As much as I didn’t want to leave 1988, Tae-joo had unfinished business in 2018. Kim Min-seok is still running rampant and with an unknown accomplice! After Hyun-seok died, did someone else take him in and groom him to be a serial killer? Or is Hyun-seok even dead in 2018? Or did he even exist at all? If 1988 was just a dream to help Tae-joo work things out, what parts would be fact and what parts fiction? I can’t believe the show has managed to keep me in the dark right up to the end and all I can say is I hope the reveal is worthy of all this great setup. It’s a tall order, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I think my favorite thing about this show, and this episode in particular, is the characters and their growth. Tae-joo has come so far from Episode 1 and really let his little team in. He’s usually so cool-headed and stoic that I was stunned when he broke out into a huge smile over dinner with his friends. These are the connections Tae-joo is missing in 2018 and while I know having forged these bonds will help him connect with people now that he’s back… I’m not ready for those 1988 bonds to be broken.