Catch the Ghost: Episode 1
Are we ready for a bit of zany fun mixed in with a compelling serial murder case? I think I am! In tvN’s quirky crime show Catch the Ghost, two very different cops must work together to stop subway crimes and maybe even catch a serial murderer.
Our traffic cop heroine’s rash and reckless actions don’t go over so well at her job interview with the subway police chief inspector. But our heroine may have a personal tragedy driving her relentless pursuit of justice at any cost. While our chief inspector may not like this applicant’s style, she just might be the one who can patch the holes that let crimes go unpunished.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on the police HR website–the subway police have an opening. As of now, there are zero applicants. Whomp whomp.
Someone’s gotta do the job though, and we catch a moment on the beat as Chief Inspector KO JI-SEOK (Kim Sun-Ho) makes his rounds on the subway cars after hours. His phone makes him jump, but it’s just his squad checking in. But then Ji-seok hesitates as he aims his flashlight at a subway bench. He wiggles his foot slowly to the cushioned edge to lift it up…and there’s nothing there. Whew.
Back at the office, the job application queue pings to announce they now have one applicant.
In voiceover, a newscast special report takes us through the hazards of the busy Seoul subway system, while the camera zips around through subway cars full of gropers and leering men. We arrive in a car where Commissioner Kim Hyung-ja gives an interview to reporters to celebrate the subway police department’s 30th anniversary.
At Wangsoori Station, traffic cop YOO RYUNG (Moon Geun-Young) directs traffic so that the commissioner and her entourage can arrive. They head to a subway train and once the gaggle of journalists are comfortably seated, Commissioner Kim orders Ji-seok and his team to demonstrate an arrest.
The commissioner plays the role of victim, while Ji-seok’s team members LEE MAN-JIN (Jo Jae-yoon) and maknae KANG SOO-HO roleplay as pickpockets. Ji-seok plays the ever-watchful officer and gives the crowd a good show as he drops his teammates to the ground and clamps the handcuffs on them, all as big-headed police mascots nod and give him a thumbs up.
But their demo takes a turn when the commissioner discovers that her wallet is missing after all. And it’s not just her, but everyone on the train has been mugged, their bags cut with a curious arched slash. Ji-seok and crew recognize this as the work of an at-large subway thief, nicknamed “Grasshopper.”
The commissioner orders Ji-seok to stop the train, who bemoans that it’s against protocol before finally giving in. The train halts and Ji-seok and team begin inspecting everyone’s bags, while the journalists all start changing their reports on the safety of the subway. The police don’t find a culprit, but Ji-seok’s eagle eyes spot a bit of fabric poking out from under one of the benches and a red stain along the metal floorboard. Ji-seok pulls up the bench and reveals a fresh corpse. Oh. No.
The news is now abuzz with reports that the subway serial killer has claimed another victim (oh no, this isn’t the first body). Commissioner Kim declares at a press conferences that she will take responsibility and resign… in three months, if they still haven’t caught the culprit.
The subway police gather around their commissioner once she exits the stage, and Commissioner Kim turns to Lieutenant HA MA-RI (Jung Yoo-jin) to inform her that she only has three months left to catch the serial killer. Ma-ri’s been on the case for two years now, but she reminds the commissioner that while this case isn’t solved yet, she closed three other high-profile serial murder cases in that time. Ma-ri is confident that she can solve this, and the commissioner gives her a special investigation team to focus on just this case. Ji-seok, meanwhile, is dismissed to work the Grasshopper thefts.
Once the commissioner departs, Ji-seok calls out to Ma-ri, quite casually by her first name, and offers to collaborate by sharing the subway turnstile footage. Ma-ri corrects him that he’ll cooperate with her team, and that she’ll let him know when she needs his cooperation.
The two go their separate ways to brief their teams on their respective cases. In the serial murders case, four victims have been found in the last two years. Camera footage shows the victims exiting the train but never passing through the turnstiles to leave, Ma-ri indicating that the abduction and murders are somehow occuring in the very public platform space. Because of this, the media has nicknamed the killer the Subway Ghost.
Ji-seok, meanwhile, goes over the details of the Grasshopper thefts: thus dubbed by the media because an entire train car would be pickpocketed at the same time, like a “cloud of grasshoppers.” Crowds make fingerprinting and footage difficult in these situations, so Ji-seok’s plan is to canvas the cars, one by one.
While checking on a late night train, Ji-seok lingers in a car with a woman drunkenly passed out. He refers to her as a “corpse” in his team group chat, and watches closely as a man shows up to “help her up.” Sure enough, the guy cuts through the woman’s necklace chain with a knife, and there’s a Grasshopper slash on her bag.
There’s a surprise though–this isn’t any woman, but our traffic cop Yoo Ryung, undercover. She hits the thief in the face and flips him over her back onto the floor. Stunned Ji-seok tries to intercede, but Yoo Ryung assumes he’s working with the thief and cuffs him to a pole. The thief takes this opportunity to escape out the train doors, and Yoo Ryung chases after him, leaving Ji-seok chained up in the last train of the night.
The thief has a head start and keeps gaining as Yoo Ryung struggles in her heels, but then Yoo Ryung deploys her superpower. She has the entire subway system memorized, and she predicts each move the thief will make. She takes the elevator up to the right corridor and easily heads him off.
The thief pivots, and pivots, but Yoo Ryung is there again and again to stop him in his tracks. Exhausted, the thief crawls along the central staircase, and sees a gruesome ghost at the top of the stairs. In his daze he sees Yoo Ryung as a dark spirit, and she grins as she prepares to apprehend him.
Meanwhile, Ma-ri and her partner KIM WOO-HYUK (Ki Do-hoon) document various security cameras in a station. When Ma-ri refers to Ji-seok disdainfully, Woo-hyuk says that the demo disaster wasn’t Ji-seok’s fault. And speaking of Ji-seok, the poor guy is still chained up in a subway car. He does his best to twist, stretch, and launch himself to the opposite bench where the cuff keys dangle from Yoo Ryung’s abandoned bag, but all he manages to do is stun himself as he drops to the ground, hard.
It’s that moment, of course, when the car door swings open right at the stop where Ma-ri and Woo-hyuk are standing. They gape at Ji-seok, and then the doors close and Ji-seok continues down the line.
The next morning, Ji-seok’s been freed and is at the office ready to interview his new partner. He’s even purchased matching extendable batons for them, awwww. His eagerness turns to shock, however, when their interviewee turns out to be Yoo Ryung. And she has the Grasshopper in custody with her.
Man-jin and Soo-ho are excited about the arrest, while Ji-seok climbs underneath his desk, haha. Yoo Ryung isn’t even fazed by it, and promptly kneels beside him to introduce herself. She finally recognizes him when Ji-seok lifts his hand from his face to shoo her away, and she gasps.
In the interview room, Ji-seok’s wrists are still bruised from the cuffs as he prints out a list of reasons that Yoo Ryung is disqualified for the position. Reasons include: making an arrest in another territory without approval, handcuffing an innocent individual, and bribery.
Yoo Ryung asks how an arrest can be considered bribery, and Ji-seok points out that she said herself that she wanted to use it to demonstrate her qualifications. She accuses Ji-seok of just being embarrassed, and he says that sure, he’s embarrassed, but he’s more concerned about her extreme efforts and motive. When he asks Yoo Ryung why she wants to be subway police, she hesitates before finally offering the (super not-believable) excuse that she’s a member of the Subway Lovers Association.
Ji-seok says that though she may think her violations are trivial, she could be the hole that sinks the ship and takes everyone else down with her. As Yoo Ryung leaves dejected, it’s made worse when the team determines that her thief isn’t Grasshopper, but just a copycat.
Ji-seok patrols near the escalator, though he’s blocked temporarily by a very territorial restaurant employee handing out flyers. When Ji-seok can see again, he spots Yoo Ryung, and then a man behind her, angling his shoe just so under her skirt. What Ji-seok can’t see, however, is the man’s partner, whose pen glints as the creep nods at him.
Ji-seok chases down the shoe creep and uncovers a camera tucked into his shoe. Shoe Creep says there’s no evidence, and Ji-seok gets out a card reader to look at the contents of the sd card on his phone. But there’s absolutely nothing on it, so he has to let the guy go.
Shoe Creep meets up with his partner afterwards, who uploads their photos to a site. The site visitors immediately praise on Yoo Ryung’s photo, though when they’re asked to vote for either her or a different red-skirted woman they photographed that day, the other woman wins the vote.
Yoo Ryung’s dejected traffic direction is interrupted when Ji-seok calls to ask her to report a crime. She meets him at the subway police offices, where he asks her to identify the photos of her on the website. Yoo Ryung throws her arms over the monitor at the thought of Ji-seok looking at them, and he promises that no one will look at them and they’ll be deleted as soon as the case is closed.
Yoo Ryung demands that Ji-seok look though when she sees the plans that the creeps have for the other girl. Shoe Creep offers a special party to their viewers, where they will bring the girl after drugging her. Oh wow.
Yoo Ryung is ready to spring into action, but Ji-seok defers to cyber crimes to handle the case. But when he calls them, they say they can’t be bothered. He tries major crimes next, and they also refuse to help until a crime has been committed. Yoo Ryung won’t sit idly by, and instead decks herself out in Ji-seok’s gun and storms out the door, ha!
Ji-seok finds Yoo Ryung on a bright pink scooter ready to charge, and he jumps on the back when she won’t listen to him. She asks him to check with cyber crimes to determine where the creeps are posting, while Ji-seok nags her about speeding and stopping beyond the line at a red light. Yoo Ryung speeds ahead, weaving in the lanes, and Ji-seok grips her shirt so tightly, all of the buttons pop off. Ji-seok takes the steering while Yoo Ryung tries to cover herself.
Finally parked outside the cafe, Ji-seok offers his coat, but Yoo Ryung demands his shirt instead. In a jacket and undershirt, Ji-seok tries to remain serious as he asks the cafe owner about the creeps, who have just left. Ji-seok barely has time to turn around before Yoo Ryung hurtles out the second-story window and drops to the ground. Ji-seok stumbles down the stairs and onto the back of her scooter.
They manage to catch up to the creeps, until a car cuts them off at a one way street. But Yoo Ryung dials into her subway superpower and drives the scooter into the subway to catch up. She has to abandon the scooter at the exit, though she leaves Ji-seok behind to carry it up.
Yoo Ryung stands in front of the creeps’ car, forcing them to stop. After consideration, they refuse to comply and slam into reverse, dropping Yoo Ryung on the pavement. Ji-seok finally appears, sweaty from pushing the scooter to the surface, but he still manages to pull Yoo Ryung to the sidewalk. Ji-seok lists out the growing list of violations Yoo Ryung has committed already and declares that they’ll handle this case his way from now on.
The creeps, meanwhile, gloat about their getaway. They sneer that in addition to their plans to drug their target on her commute the next day, they’ve also sent their minions out to unnerve her.
And sure enough, internet creeps all over are busy sending her harassing messages. One message threatens to come to her home if she calls the cops.
Ji-seok and Yoo Ryung note that the creeps have already deleted the website. Ji-seok sends a message to his team to assemble, while Yoo Ryung hotwires the scooter, haha. It seems that it’s not hers and that she “borrowed” it for their chase.
Back at the office, the team plans their next move. They know that the girl will be targeted on her commute, so they hope to use transit card records to confirm which stations she boards and arrives at. Ji-seok tries to follow protocol to call the person in charge of records, while Yoo Ryung charges into the hallway with a knife.
The guys worry she plans to assault the night duty clerk, but instead she uses the knife to open the lock on the records room door. Ji-seok calls her the hole to sink the ship again, but Yoo Ryung says that it’s cyber and major crimes who are holes in the system, and she’s just trying to patch them. Soo-ho watches the door while they grab the info, and they narrowly escape detection by the night clerk.
The team splits up, sending the boys to the station where the woman boarded while Ji-seok and Yoo Ryung scooter over to her exit. On closer examination of the photo from security, Ji-seok recognises the hat the woman is wearing and tracks down the volunteer group who wears it in the station. It turns out the woman was only there to volunteer and that it isn’t her work stop. Ji-seok manages to get her contact info from the group, but the targeted woman has had a rough night already and is unwilling to answer an unfamiliar number. She ducks into her departing station, where Man-jin and Soo-ho miss her in the crowd.
Ji-seok manages to get the woman’s social media account as well, and they study a photo of the woman near her work. Yoo Ryung deploys her mind map of the subway system and manages to determine the one stop that has a coffee shop, the number eight, and a mirror in it, all clues from the photo.
Shoe Creep arrives at the woman’s exit and injects her with a drug as he passes her. The woman becomes woozy, and she stumbles up the exit and right into the arms of the creep’s partner. He clumsily shoves her into the backseat, but the woman manages to stay conscious enough to struggle.
Ji-seok and Yoo Ryung arrive at the exit and split up. Yoo Ryung notes the rocking car ahead of her and approaches the window. Shoe Creep orders his friend to sit the woman upright, and he barely cracks the window as Yoo Ryung asks to inspect the car.
But Yoo Ryung recognizes the creep, and he tries to roll the window up just as she jams her arm inside and grabs at his collar. Ji-seok hears Yoo Ryung cry out, and he’s on the scooter in an instant. He ramps a cardboard box of flyers and is airborne, flying through the air until the scooter’s front tire slams into the car’s windshield. Ji-seok flips off the scooter and slams into the top of the car. He seems mostly okay, though he rasps at Yoo Ryung that he needs a defibrillator. Yoo Ryung leans as far away from him as she can while still stuck in the window, haha.
Shoe Creep whines as he’s taken into custody that he didn’t murder anyone, and Yoo Ryung declares his crime a psychological murder. She isn’t sure what to do as the officers ask her for direction, but she seems grateful when she finds Ji-seok busy making calls to all the right people.
Yoo Ryung triumphantly adds her photo to the staff board in the police office and calls Ji-seok partner, but he scoffs at her and removes her photo. He delivers an envelope with all of her crimes and violations for her to address instead. He can’t help but ask again what motive Yoo Ryung has to go to such extremes that she memorized the subway lines, and Yoo Ryung offers to share if he hires her.
Ji-seok isn’t that interested though, and Yoo Ryung drags herself to a lonely subway bench. “I didn’t memorize them,” she says, and in flashback we see a frantic Yoo Ryung approach Ma-ri as she investigated one of the early victims of the Subway Ghost. Yoo Ryung begs Ma-ri to consider her missing twin sister as a victim, even though her body hadn’t been discovered. Yoo Ryung is convinced the crimes are related, but Ma-ri dismisses her.
Yoo Rung builds her giant murder board with photographs and sketches of all areas in the subway. In the present, she mutters, “I didn’t memorize them. They were burned into my brain.”
The woman targeted by Shoe Creep arrives at the station to thank the team and deliver a gift. She especially wants to thank Yoo Ryung, and the guys shame Ji-seok into calling the dismissed traffic cop to share the thanks.
Ji-seok struggles with his words though, until he finally settles on: “you start on night duty tonight.” Yoo Ryung wakes to the buzz of her phone, and she’s soon running into the station to start her new job. Her coworkers greet her with smiles, and she even graciously divides the gift drinks evenly among them.
Man-jin and Soo-ho can’t help but tease Yoo Ryung with ghost stories, and this gets a good-natured grin from Ji-seok. The guys depart and leave Ji-seok and Yoo Ryung to the night shift. There’s currently no ladies night duty room, so Ji-seok offers to sleep in the office while she takes the bed. He fails to notice Yoo Ryung’s sidelong glances to the keys hanging on the wall, and she heads to bed.
Ma-ri burns her own midnight oil as she tries to find a connection between the victims. Woo-hyuk drops Yoo Ryung’s sister’s file on her desk and asks if it might help illuminate a connection. Ma-ri insists that this case isn’t related, and asks Woo-hyuk to get some missing camera footage from Ji-seok.
While Ji-seok delivers those files, Yoo Ryung gets her chance to steal the keys and head to the subway tunnel. Yoo Ryung thinks to herself that the only way that the Subway Ghost could transport their victims unseen would be the tunnel, and so she climbs down onto the tracks.
As she walks, a scuffling noise stops her. She shines her flashlight ahead of her, while a shadow appears behind her, and raises something to strike.
Zany, but I’m here for it. Kim Sun-Ho has a great track record for physical comedy, and it works here because he is supposed to be the serious one. He and Moon Geun-Young are well-matched and both seem to have a similar sense of when it push it and when to reel it back in. I love it. Some might suggest that ramping a scooter off a cardboard box into a car windshield is a bit much, but honestly, this is what I’m here for. If there’s anything I might object to, it would most likely be the gratuitously long button-popping scene. These two have chemistry, but it’s not romantic (yet). I need some time for this ship to sail.
I think the show works for me because there’s a lot of really great setup and character work going on in the background while the goofy takes the lead. Within a single case, I learned so much about the main characters, especially Yoo Ryung. She’s certainly the type to act first, think later, but she isn’t causing mischief because she’s incompetent or clumsy. She does it purposefully to incite change in her world. And while she’s passionate about not letting bureaucracy get in the way of justice, she’s also not the type to hold a grudge. I thought the scene where she divided out the gift drinks to her new coworkers did so much great work to establish her character in such a subtle way. Additionally, the flashback scene establishes the plot revolving around her missing sister, but small details, like Yoo Ryung falling asleep with her sister’s teddy bear, are more effectively poignant.
I also really like that Yoo Ryung is the type to ask for forgiveness not permission, and even then she’s not so much interested in forgiveness. She feels justified in her small crimes in her effort to find real justice. I’m on her side, but I do wonder if it might eventually get her into trouble if she takes it too far.
Because Ji-seok’s objections were reasonable. He wasn’t just full of himself and prejudiced against Yoo Ryung, or trying to reject her because of his embarrassment. She turned up and broke a lot of rules. He described it as exhausting, and I’m sure it is. The fact that he changes his mind and gives her a chance provides some excellent nuance to his character as well. He’s not bitter or lazy. He believes in the work. He’s just a bit of a rules-bound paladin. The laws Yoo Ryung broke were small and didn’t hurt anyone, but I think the show has plenty of room to explore what it means when the laws are bent a little too far in the name of justice.
Also, there’s Jung Yoo-jin here playing a super-competent woman as usual. I love how she’s played so many different types, but I always feel that undercurrent of competence. Ma-ri seems to have something a little petty against Ji-seok right now, but I think it’s pretty clear that she’s the one to go to when you need the smartest person in the room. I’m interested to see why she’s so certain that Yoo Ryung’s sister’s case is unrelated, especially when even her partner seems to think it’s worth considering.
The show is having fun playing with Yoo Ryung’s name (a play on the word “ghost”) and the many ways that the concept of ghost might be interpreted in this context. The killer is referred to as the Subway Ghost, but the faux-Grasshopper sees Yoo Ryung’s persistence similar to that of a vengeful ghost. The news even refers to the many people who spend their day underground in the subway lines as ghosts. Ji-seok finds an actual literal corpse on a train, and yet he’s more likely to use the word to refer to people passed out drunk. I feel like they can take this metaphor a long way as they work through the show’s theme, and so far I like it. This strong foundation plus a great compact core cast makes me think this show may prove both entertaining and moving.
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