Nobody Knows: Episode 1
Nobody Knows is an intense thriller centered around a 19-year-old murder case that has defined our heroine detective’s life. As a bit of a true-crime nut with a passion for badass female leads, this drama snuggled nicely into my wheelhouse, but I wasn’t prepared to be so thoroughly absorbed with not only a fascinating serial killer, but the life our detective has carved for herself in the wake of her best friend’s gruesome death… and her determination to catch the person responsible, no matter the cost.
[Not-so-Fun Fact Corner: Prior to 2015, South Korea had a statute of limitations of 25 years on murder cases (which had been extended in 2007 from the initial 15-year limit). The abolishment of the statute is called the Tae-wan Law – named after the tragic death of a 6-year-old boy in 1999 – and applies to all first-degree murders committed after 2000. Any murders committed prior to 2000, second-degree murders, manslaughter, or resulting from an accident, are not included in the revision.]
EPISODE 1: “I’ll Find You No Matter What”
In a peaceful forest, a woman stands in a clearing. She is our heroine, CHA YOUNG-JIN (Kim Seo-hyung) and a cluster of white flowers catch her eye. A high school girl, CHOI SOO-JUNG (Kim Shi-eun) smiles down at them, thinking they look like fairies. Soo-jung asks Young-jin if the flowers are a freak of nature and a teenage Young-jin (portrayed by Kim Sae-ron) replies they’re white due to lacking chlorophyll. She adds they get their nutrients by feeding on decay and Soo-jung pouts that’s gross.
Young-jin finds it inspiring the plants clean up filth and Soo-jung teasers her for speaking like an old person. Soo-jung asks for the plant’s name and Young-jin smiles as she answers “soojungcho” (ghost flower). Soo-jung squeals that their names are similar, fishing that she’s as elegant and beautiful as the plant as well. Young-jin cheekily ignores her, suggesting they leave but Soo-jung stops to asks if she thinks a dead body could be buried beneath the flowers. Both girls look warily at the plant and then erupt into giggles as they race out of the woods.
Night falls, and a dark figure drags a bound Soo-jung to the spot where the girls had been earlier. He takes hold of her hands and she stares up in horror as he raises an ice pick. We’re spared witnessing the mutilation, but a flurry of news reports informs us that she was the eighth victim in a series of murders. All bodies bore stigmata – or the wounds inflicted on Christ during the crucifixion – in the form of punctured hands from nails and a gash in the side (in Christ’s case, from a lance).
Following the discovery of Soo-jung’s body, Young-jin sits sniffling in the police station as Detective Hwang In-beom takes her statement. He questions why Young-jin didn’t answer Soo-jung’s calls on the day of her death. Young-jin explains reception in her house is poor and she was too lazy to go outside to answer, despite Soo-jung calling three times, and laments that Soo-jung might’ve lived had she answered.
Flashing back, we see Soo-jung walking across a bridge and calling Young-jin, unaware of a man clad in black stalking her. Meanwhile, Young-jin is relaxing in her room and ignores the phone. That night, Soo-jung races frantically through the woods. She trips and fumbles for her phone, calling Young-jin again. From her bed, Young-jin feels for it, but gives up when she can’t reach it. Soo-jung freezes as her stalker approaches her. Young-jin falls asleep with 3 missed calls displayed on her cellphone, unaware of her best friend’s fate.
Back in the station, Young-jin says the killer must have Soo-jung’s phone now. Detective Hwang assumes the killer disposed of it, but Young-jin argues he’s never taken anything from a victim before. Leaving the interview, Young-jin’s phone rings and she freezes when the display reads “Soo-jung.” Answering, a young man tauntingly comments that she finally answered. She trails off wondering if she’d answered sooner… and he confirms that Soo-jung would be alive.
The killer tells Young-jin that she had been his initial target, but she’d failed to meet his requirements, so he’d taken Soo-jung instead. Young-jin spits that she’ll kill him, and the man amusedly asks if she’s not afraid of him, saying he could still come for her. She says she’ll find him first and he informs her Yoo-jung will be the last stigmata murder, so she won’t be able to. “I will,” Young-jin vows, “No matter how long it takes, I’ll find you at any cost.”
Young-jin orders him to stay alive until then and the killer laughs that he likes her and can’t wait to meet her. He hangs up just as Detective Hwang finds Young-jin crying in the hallway. Taking her phone from her, her sees the call log and Young-jin tells him it was a young man who confirmed he was the killer. Calling back gets a disconnected message and Detective Hwang asks what else was said. Steeling herself, Young-jin lies that the man promised to keep killing.
Present day, Young-jin smiles when she answers a call from middle schooler, GO EUN-HO (Ahn Ji-ho). He guesses she’s being promoted and Young-jin wonders how he knows. Eun-ho had seen her police uniform at the dry cleaners on his way home and pouts that she didn’t tell him. Young-jin laughs that he doesn’t tell her everything that happens at school. Congratulating her, Eun-ho offers to pick up her uniform and they end the call.
Returning to her desk, Young-jin is stopped by fellow detective, Han Geun-man, who warns her the mother of the stigmata killer’s first victim is in their office. Young-jin breezes past him and finds the mom screeching at Special Crime Squad detectives Lee Jae-hong and Park Jin-soo. She’s confused why they want her daughter’s belongings now and the men try to explain that advanced technology might reveal new evidence.
Detective Kim Byung-hee is less sympathetic and agrees that it’s a waste of time. The mother orders them to stop giving grieving families false hope, but Byung-hee accuses her of just being upset she’d burned her daughter’s stuff. Young-jin finally intervenes, warning Byung-hee to watch his tongue. Glaring, the mother recalls Young-jin had first visited 17 years ago with Detective Hwang (the man who’d interviewed Young-jin after Soo-jung’s death).
Young-jin confirms she’s never given up on the case and the mother screeches that they should’ve never returned the evidence to the families, erupting into sobs. Young-jin replies there’s still a piece of her daughter’s things – a card given to the victim by her sister. The sister had retrieved it when they returned the victim’s belongings and has agreed to personally deliver it to Young-jin. The news appeases the mother and she leaves quietly.
Byung-hee whines that the other families will hound them now thanks to Young-jin and Detective Han sighs that this is the last time they’ll work on the stigmata murders. He thinks it’s a waste of time since aside from Soo-jung all the statute of limitations expired (*see the note at the top of the recap). Byung-hee agrees that even if they retrieve evidence, it’s been contaminated over the past 20 years. Young-jin says she’ll continue as long as there are things to investigate.
Exasperated, Detective Han assigns Byung-hee and Jin-soo something else, leaving only Jae-hong to assist Young-jin. Once their seniors are gone, the younger men gossip that Superintendent Hwang used to be Young-jin’s mentor. Jae-hong doesn’t recognize the name and the others tsk that Superintendent Hwang was the detective that worked the stigmata murders and became famous for receiving the chilling phone call where the murderer promised to kill again. (Wait… wasn’t Young-jin the one that answered that call?)
Young-jin receives her promotion insignia and the detective trio note that she hasn’t invited anyone to the ceremony. One of them attributes her quick rise in the ranks to the fact that she only focuses on work. At school, Eun-ho texts Young-jin to check her pocket. She finds a note that simply reads: “Congratulations. Well done.” Aww….
Eun-ho’s classmates are impressed when their instructor LEE SUN-WOO (Ryu deok-hwan) finishes their closing meeting in under a minute and leaves again. Two boys tell Eun-ho they don’t feel well today and despite their obvious lie, Eun-ho says he’ll handle cleaning duty alone. The staff are also aware of Sun-woo’s speedy exits and attribute it to nepotism (his father was the previous chairman). Sun-woo glides into the current chairman, his brother-in-law Yoon Hee-seob’s office.
Hee-seob questions Sun-woo’s speediness and cocks a brow when Sun-woo says it’s inefficient to make the class wait while the ones on duty clean. Hee-seob asks who’s supervising the cleaning, then, and Sun-woo breezily replies that he trusts the students. Sun-woo excuses himself, teasing he’s going to get an expensive dinner before going home. On his way out, Sun-woo peeks in and finds Eun-ho cleaning alone. Sun-woo calls bull on Eun-ho’s explanation the others are sick and offers to make them finish up tomorrow. Eun-ho assures Sun-woo it isn’t necessary and Sun-woo leaves, reminding himself not to get involved.
Superintendent Hwang approaches Young-jin after the ceremony, bummed that he missed it. She smiles fondly and flashes back to the day they’d met. After the killer had called Young-jin, Detective Hwang had told her to let everyone think he received it to protect her from harassment. Aww. In the present, they go for coffee and Superintendent Hwang ignores a call from a reporter. Young-jin is remorseful, but Superintendent Hwang smiles that he doesn’t regret it.
He asks about the case now and Young-jin tells him about retesting the card given to the first victim by her younger sister. Superintendent Hwang recalls that it had been opened, but only bore the younger sister’s prints, suggesting the killer, not the victim, read it. He’d thought everything was burned and Young-jin says the younger sister had set the card aside. Superintendent Hwang nods that she had been 8 when her sister was killed and would be 29 now.
Eun-ho stops to buy groceries on the way home. After changing clothes, he brings a carton of milk upstairs and lets himself into Young-jin’s apartment. He looks warily at a door, noticing it’s not fully closed, and then goes to water Young-jin’s many plants. Afterwards, he repositions a framed child’s drawing of Young-jin – one of many, and presumably done by him. Pulling down a book (“The Life Before Us”), Eun-ho reads a passage: “You’re still young. There are a lot of things you better not know when you are little.”
Young-jin receives a call from Soo-jung’s mother and meets her at a nearby café. Mom says she’s thinking of selling her house and asks if Young-jin lives in the same place… with that same room. At the same time, Eun-ho opens that door and drops the book upon seeing an intense crime-board of the stigmata murders the spans the far wall. Mom tells Young-jin she saw Soo-jung in a dream, crying that Young-jin is suffering and asks if Young-jin is still consumed by the case.
Holding back tears, Young-jin assures Mom it’s her job and Mom says that it should be her job, not her life. Mom feels guilty and a flashback to that day at the police station shows her barreling in and screaming at Young-jin, blaming her for not answering her phone while Young-jin can only utter apologies through tears. In the present, Young-jin assures her it isn’t her fault, and reveals that she was the one that received the killer’s call and sworn to find him.
Mom thinks he must be dead since he’s been quiet for 20 years and people like that don’t just stop killing. Meanwhile, a bound woman with blood spreading from her side winces as a dark figure takes her hands and brandishes a screwdriver. Young-jin remains firm and Mom worries that even after 20 years of searching, she won’t be able to find him unless he kills again. She begs Young-jin to give up before it completely consumes her. The bound woman has stopped moving and gloved hands hold up a photo of Soo-jung – unfolding it to reveal Young-jin beside her – and holds up Young-jin’s business card.
Part 2: “The Doll With Six Wings”
Young-jin helps Mom into a taxi and returns home just as Eun-ho is taking out her trash. She smiles at him and we flash back to the day she moved in. A tiny Eun-ho sits on the stairs watching her and says he lives in the apartment below with his mom. He asks who she lives with and Young-jin replies she lives alone. Eun-ho offers to help her with her things because she’s alone, but she says he can’t carry it. She returns to find him still there and he warns her his mother hates it when people use the laundry or vacuum late at night.
Eun-ho adds that his mom is scary when she’s mad but denies that she’s the reason he’s in the stairwell rather than home. Young-jin asks if he really lives here and Eun-ho sullenly goes downstairs and buzzes the apartment below. Young-jin watches from the stairs as a woman opens the door and angrily demands why he’s back so soon. A man’s voice from inside slurs to let the boy in and she barks at Eun-ho to get inside.
Returning to her own apartment, Young-jin enters the room that will become her stigmata murders HQ and starts assembling her crime wall from the many boxes of case files. She opens Yoo-jung’s box last and chokes her the smiling photo inside. Shouts from downstairs draw her attention and we see a man brutally beating Eun-ho’s mom as she screams for him to get out. Eun-ho runs to answer he door and sobs at Young-jin to save his mom. The man stops when Young-jin enters the room and Eun-ho urges her to run away.
Young-jin coolly tells the man he’s under arrest for assault. He asks who she thinks she is and Young-jin replies that anyone can arrest an offender when they witness a crime. The man laughs and Young-jin easily deflects his punch, thanking him for making her job easier. He reaches for her again and she cuffs him, announcing he’ll also be charged with obstruction of justice and reading his Miranda rights. He struggles and she deftly knocks him to the ground.
Another day Young-jin returns home to find Eun-ho sleeping outside her door. She shakes him awake and he beams up at her. She asks if his mom kicked him out again, but Eun-ho smiles that he’s been waiting for Young-jin. He didn’t know when she’d return, so Eun-ho waited every day. “You’re my hero,” he says shyly. Young-jin cracks a smile and brings him inside, tasking him with watering her plant twice a week.
Eun-ho worries he’ll mess up but Young-jin gently assures him that it’s okay for kids to make mistakes. She then shows him the door to her stigmata murders room and says she’ll be locking it from now on because what’s inside will give him nightmares. In the present, Young-jin take the trash and says Eun-ho’s only job is to water the plants. He takes it back, saying she should come home more often. She thanks him for the card and suggests they go out to eat.
Sun-woo’s expensive dinner is a revolving sushi bar. Heh. He’s interrupted by a mother and her son, Jae-min. The mother says they would’ve visited after he quit, but he didn’t answer his phone. She waves it off, saying thanks to him her son was saved from a bully. Jae-min looks uncomfortable as his mother asks about Sun-woo’s wound and while Sun-woo assures the mother he’s healed, he looks pointedly at Jae-min.
Next, Sun-woo stops by a bookstore and perks up when he sees Eun-ho walking outside. He sits down again, when Young-jin catches up with the boy and watches as she ties Eun-ho’s shoes. The pair walk on and Sun-woo smiles that Eun-ho looks like his mother. Young-jin questions Eun-ho’s trouble expression and he wonders what will happen if she never finds the stigmata killer. He adds if anything bad ever happens to him, he hopes she never finds out. Young-jin is confused and Eun-ho admits that that locked room was open.
She’s shocked that he entered, despite knowing what was inside. Eun-ho apologizes and said he’d braced himself, but it was worse than he’d imagined. Young-jin softens and guesses he’s worried about her. She teases there’s no way she wouldn’t know something happened to him – just as he’d known about her promotion – and Eun-ho smiles in agreement. As they walk home, Eun-ho is aware of someone following them, but doesn’t alert Young-jin.
His mother calls to tell him she’ll be spending the night at her boyfriend’s place and Young-jin worries about him being left alone so often. Eun-ho says it’s better than his mom bringing men home and wishes to grow up soon. After they return home, Eun-ho steps back out to meet with their stalker. It’s a boy his age, JU DONG-MYEONG. Eun-ho hands him a handful of bills and he leaves. Meanwhile, Young-jin stares into her stigmata murder room and thinks about what Yoo-jung’s mom had said.
She pulls down the box on the first victim and flips through the files, before standing in front of her murder wall. Every picture has a sticky note declaring the statute of limitations with only Soo-jung’s crossed out to add the statute of limitations was abolished. Multiple news clippings are highlighted about Tae Wan Law and that had Yoo-jung died any earlier, her murder would’ve fallen outside its reach and still had a statute. The killer’s chilling words echo in Young-jin’s ears and she vows to find him.
Eun-ho approaches classmate Ha Min-sung outside school the following morning, asking if he’s decided. Min-sung orders him to follow and the boys convene on the rooftop. Min-sung rounds on Eun-ho demanding why it’s his business whether Min-sung cheated on exam with answers his mother gave him. He said he’d shared them with Eun-ho so they could be friends again… and begs Eun-ho to let this go, promising not to do it again.
To Min-sung’s confusion Eun-ho says he’s doing this because they’re friends. He warns that if Min-sung tell, Eun-ho will. Min-sung agrees but asks for a few more days to prepare himself. The boys return to class and Eun-ho starts reading the book he’d picked up in Young-jin’s apartment. The jerks who’d skipped cleaning duty zero in on Eun-ho, asking what he’s reading. Eun-ho retorts they’ll know by reading it and one of them snatches the book.
Eun-ho demands it back and they start to play monkey-in-the-middle. The book hits Eun-ho in the chest and drops to the floor. He stoops to retrieve it just as Sun-woo enters the room and mutters an apology for being out of his seat. Sun-woo notices the tension in the room but ignores it and announces the class will stay back today for cleaning. During break, Sun-woo runs into Dong-myeong (the boy extorting money from Eun-ho) and sighs at his rudeness.
Dong-myeong overhears girls worrying whether to report the bullies for harassing Eun-ho and demands details. At home, Young-jin chokes down some dry cereal only to find a note on the fridge that Eun-ho bought her milk. She smiles as she takes her bowl to sit with her plants while at school, Dong-myeong angrily approaches the bullies. Although speaking to them, he locks eyes with Min-sung as he warns them to stop messing with Eun-ho: “He’s my prey.”
Young-jin drops by the station to grab rookie Jae-hong and they cross paths with two female officers. Officer Yoon Ja-young clearly idolizes Young-jin and asks why Young-jin picked Jae-hong for the team over her. Young-jin says they were comparable in all areas except their reason for joining, but bars Jae-hong for revealing the answer he gave. Ja-young watches them leave, sighing that she wants to be like Young-jin.
At a café, Young-jin makes a beeline for a woman she immediately identifies as the younger sister or the first victim. Surprised, the woman smiles sadly when Young-jin explains she looks like her sister. The woman hands over a carefully bagged card… as well as a bagged doll. She explains that she found the doll when looking for the card and recalled meeting a man a few days before her sister’s death. Flashing back, a faceless man holds out the doll to a child, but her older sister rushes her away before he can give it to her.
Later, however, the older sister is distracted talking to friends and the child runs back to receive the doll from the man. He warns the child that her sister’s soul is sick and promises to heal her through rebirth. Okay… hella creepy. The woman says she hid the doll because her sister told her to throw it out, but it seemed relevant now. Young-jin asks about the man, but the woman can only remember his voice was kind.
Jae-hong notes that the doll has six wings and Young-jin says it’s the angel from a painting titled, “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata.” As they’re leaving, Young-jin suddenly tells Jae-hong to return to the National Forensic Service alone and rushes home. In one of the evidence boxes, she pulls out a notation that someone had called about a six-winged angel and identified the New Life Church. She heads to the church and shows a picture of the doll to a man sitting in the office.
The man recalls that a pastor at the church used to hand such dolls out to children and identifies him in a picture in the hallway, Seo Sang-won. She then asks the church director for details. He refuses to tell her anything unless she explains what she’s investigating. Young-jin warns he’s only slowing her down – she’ll find out regardless. She wonders what she’ll uncover by digging into the church and the director looks unnerved.
Leaving school, Eun-ho witnesses a man having a heart attack. He calls emergency services and identifies that they’re near New Life Church before conducting CPR. It works and at the hospital, the man thanks Eun-ho for saving his life. The man takes note of Eun-ho’s nametag and ominously says, “Your righteous deed today will come back as a huge reward in the near future.” Meanwhile, Young-jin finds Seo Sang-won’s address. Jae-hong calls to say he’s on his way and she heads inside.
Young-jin calls Seo Sang-won’s phone and hears it ring through the fifth-floor door, which stands ajar. Elbowing it open, she finds the bound woman we saw earlier dead in a chair. The ringing phone triggers Young-jin’s trauma over Soo-jung but it stops when she gets a message. It’s a video from Seo Sang-won’s number and she plays it to see a hand holding up a business card and then showing the dead woman. She finds her card next to the body and then sees blood dotting the floor.
Young-jin follows the trail to find Seo Sang-won on the roof, a bloody screwdriver at his feet and blood streaming from gaping wounds in his hands and abdomen. He calls her name and reaches out to her.
Woooooow… that was intense. I kept wanting to check a recap for clarification only to remember that’s my job! I hope my recap helps any of y’all that felt that way this hour. I want to take a moment to gush at how amazing this pilot was. The writing, pacing, characters, actors, and cinematography are all so well-done that it makes me anxious whether the rest of the run can maintain this energy. I really hope so, because I’m already deeply invested in the characters and their lives.
Young-jin is such an endearing character. She seems like your typical hardened badass, but there’s so much compassion behind her armor that it was heartbreaking to see her crumple. Eun-ho is the most precious puppy and melts my heart so it’s no wonder he was able to burrow his way into Young-jin’s life. Their relationship is so wholesome and sweet that it will make it all the more heartbreaking when something happens to him, as he foreshadowed to Young-jin over dinner.
I find it fascinating that both hide things to protect one another. Her comment that Eun-ho doesn’t tell her what happens at school seemed like a throwaway remark until we witnessed how tense things are there. Bullies take advantage in class, but are told to back off by Dong-myeong… who’s taking money from Eun-ho. All while Eun-ho’s supposed friend Min-sung pretends not to see anything. That dynamic is already so insane and then you throw in his encounter with the weird ajusshi outside the New Life Church…. There’s no way Eun-ho is going to make it out of this unscathed, but so long as he makes it out alive I might be willing to forgive whatever horrors the show has in store.
Speaking of the New Life Church is anyone else screaming cult?! I was not expecting that, so this makes for a fun twist on the serial killer hunt. I feel confident that Pastor Seo Sang-won is not Soo-jung’s killer- he was already middle-aged when the first victim’s little sis encountered him and the man that called Young-jin was younger. He’s definitely involved, though, and it’s possible he’s responsible for some of the other murders. We’ve barely scratched the surface, so it’s hard to say how deep the cult goes or how it operates.
Seo Sang-won had told the younger sister he would save the first victim through rebirth… so what does that mean for Young-jin and Soo-jung? The killer said Young-jin had been his target, but she didn’t fit his criteria. If the criteria is someone that needs to be “saved,” as suggested with the first victim, what made Soo-jung fit the profile? The ajusshi promising to reward Eun-ho for his good deed had a similar feeling and I worry the cult is going to try to “save” him too.
And if all that wasn’t crazy enough, Eun-ho’s teacher also has interesting things going on. Like Young-jin, he seems guarded with those around him. It’s clear something happened at his previous school to make him keep his distance from the students now and I’d bet it was more complicated than the mom that thanked him for interfering understands. It’s disheartening because he seems like a good guy who got burned trying to do the right thing and is afraid to try again. Hopefully he can learn a thing or two from Young-jin who’s fought for justice against all odds for nearly twenty years.