Inspector Koo: Episode 1
A shut-in gamer with a mysterious past is lured from her cave to help with an investigation. What first seems like a simple one-off case of insurance fraud actually points to a much bigger picture, and as we meet our quirky heroine and see what she’s capable of, we also get a sense of what she’ll have to fight against.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open up with a shot that slowly pans into a dark apartment. There’s a young girl with a beaker of blood and she pours the blood down a tube and into a beaker. The music is as creepy as the scene, and the fluffy kittens that appear don’t make this any cuter. The girl turns on some kind of gas, and busily saws something.
We follow a roach into what is seemingly another apartment, where a woman is playing a video game live online with other players. Her computer is too slow, her apartment is a disgusting mess, and she looks generally unkempt — but winning the game is everything. She gives out a victory cry when they win.
The next scene is set at NT Life Insurance. Inspection Team B is headed by NA JE-HEE (Kwak Sun-young). She pretends to be nice to a colleague who’s just moved to another team, but spits in his mug before he comes into the room to retrieve it.
It seems like Team B is not performing very well; Je-hee and her team member OH KYUNG-SOO (Jo Hyun-chul) look over prospective cases with big potential payouts. One case in particular will win them a ton, but Kyung-soo says it can also get them in trouble.
Je-hee tries to motivate him while saying she saw the “fire” in him when no one else did and pointing out how quickly he could see a promotion if they win this case. Kyung-soo wonders how the two of them will solve it; Je-hee says craftily, “We need a mercenary.”
We cut to our video game obsessed heroine again, and it’s clear she is that mercenary. Je-hee and Kyung-soo appear in her apartment. Je-hee flips off the power, and a fake news story plays out on screen as we get a “live” look at MS. KOO KYUNG-YI (Lee Young-ae), aged 43, residing in Hwagukdong.
She notices what Je-hee has done and attacks her with an empty soju bottle. Black comedy it is. In the next scene, Kyung-yi is half unconscious and getting dragged by Je-hee — on her back — while an upbeat indie song plays in the background.
Je-hee drags her to a local restaurant and we next see Kyung-yi strung out over the table. Apparently she stinks, because the waiter is disgusted and there’s a fly buzzing around, but Je-hee seems unfazed and translates Kyung-yi’s muttering into the food she wants to order.
Je-hee pulls a piece of broken glass (from the bottle) out from the collar of her suit; eventually she gets Kyung-yi to wake up and tells her about the case. It’s about the life insurance policy of a man named of Kim Min-gyu, a 35-year-old officer worker at a chemical plant. But Kyung-yi only has eyes for her beer, which she guzzles as Je-hee continues to share about the case: the man went for a walk and never came back. He’s now presumed dead and the insurance payout would go to his wife.
The beer revitalizes Kyung-yi from her stupor (we see her eye overlaid with the spinning wheel that signifies a program loading up), and she immediately digests each detail from the case as Je-hee shares what she knows: the happy, church-going couple with a diabetic daughter, how he liked to go hiking, how the day he disappeared seems like a real tragedy. His gear and shoes were recovered, but not his body.
The review of the case is interrupted by the arrival of Kyung-yi’s order. She slurps her noodles shamelessly but then calls Je-hee out: she wants Kyung-yi to confirm the case was a suicide so that the payout doesn’t go to the wife. Je-hee objects loudly, which makes Kyung-yi sure it’s true.
Je-hee says she doesn’t want to fabricate documents — she just needs something circumstantial. She goes on to say you never know with people — sometimes they seem fine on the outside to everyone but are actually suicidal. This seems to strike a deep nerve with Kyung-yi, who stops chewing and looks like she’s holding back fire and brimstone — but then she carries on chewing and makes it seem like her reaction was just about the food. Je-hee insists that Kyung-yi will take the case; Kyung-yi protests.
Kyung-yi hesitates at the entrance to her apartment; it’s been so long since she’s been out that she forgot her passcode. Luckily Je-hee knows, and lets her into her own apartment.
She’s in for a surprise: the apartment has not only been cleaned up, but all her old gear and tech has been replaced with top-of-the-line equipment. Kyung-yi doesn’t know where to look first. Of course it’s a bribe — she can’t use the equipment without agreeing to take the case. Je-hee jingles the key in front of her, and Kyung-soo toys with her too, recounting how her old computer was literally a breeding ground for roaches.
Kyung-yi rightly complains they’re forcing her hand, but when Je-hee powers on the server, Kyung-yi sees hearts and immediately boots up her game. Je-hee is amused; Kyung-soo can barely hide his eye roll.
Je-hee definitely knows how to speak Kyung-yi’s language. As Kyung-yi gets into her game she agrees to help them with the case and is told that Kyung-soo will pick her up in the morning. When that registers with her she objects, saying she can’t work with someone she doesn’t trust. Je-hee insists she needs a driver.
Once Kyung-yi gives him a good inquiring look, she (rudely but accurately) susses out his entire life, from where he’s from, to failing the police exam, to looking for a promotion. He storms out saying he can’t work with someone so rude and unhygienic, but of course everything she’s said was true and made him uncomfortable to be so immediately exposed. I guess she’s good at what she does.
Kyung-yi insists on replacing Kyung-soo with a driver she can trust and pings her group of online gamers, and someone takes the job. Je-hee says she’s not trusting some online gamer they’ve never met, but Kyung-yi vouches for him saying they’ve been through thousands of battles together and he always has her back lol.
We cut to that very driver, and he’s a very adorable-looking boy that looks like he’s barely legal. He’s known online as SANTA (Baek Sung-chul). He doesn’t say a word while Je-hee interviews him, and afterwards the two women talk outside saying he’s nothing like they expected. Kyung-yi doubts it is really Santa, but apparently he has relayed the details of one of their gaming victories, and this confirms his identity for Kyung-yi.
Just then he pulls up. Je-hee shoves Kyung-yi into the car. She takes one look at Santa, and then reclines her seat all the way, telling him to wake her up when they get there.
We cut to a group of high school girls quoting Shakespeare for an upcoming play. As they enter a classroom, they call cutely for something… maybe… kittens?
The girls notice a box hand-painted with cute cat faces and balloons with one of the girl’s names on it. When she opens it, I’m definitely expecting dead kittens, but it’s actually a surprise. Inside is a girl with a streamer and a bunch of kittens with bows around their necks. The girl in the box is called KYUNG (Kim Hye-joon) by her classmates; though she’s all smiles, we immediately recognize her as the girl from our creepy opening sequence.
Their teacher walks in and opens the window, sitting down in the corner while the girls small talk and take selcas. They notice a cut on Kyung’s face but she says it’s from the kittens.
Meanwhile, Kyung-yi is at her village location, wearing a black trench coat and taking photos with a camera that has a huge lens on it. She pretends to be a tourist while Santa steals mail from the address they’re near. (This is the second scene where Santa doesn’t speak; does he have a speech disability or is this a narrative choice? TBD)
The pair looks over the stolen mail and then heads to the next stop, which is the local mart. This time Kyung-yi spies using her cell phone, commenting aloud that what she’s seeing is fishy. Santa is standing behind her also observing and uses an AI app to type what he wants to reply to her. Aww, I guess it’s true that he doesn’t speak; now he’s even more adorable.
They’ve been observing the bereaved wife of Kim Min-gyu. Santa lets Kyung-yi know he thinks she’s a good person; Kyung-yi surmises that she would need the insurance payout in order to support herself and her daughter.
Kyung-yi changes in the car, tying up her hair, putting on a hot pink ajumma-esque windbreaker, and taking a swig from her flask, which immediately puts a smile on her face.
Kyung-yi takes advantage of a plainclothes policeman turning up to complain about where they’ve parked. As they walk along the pier, she says that she’s planning to move there, and then asks some questions about the husband that went missing. The man claims that nothing dangerous has ever happened in the village for decades and that the couple was having a hard time because of their sick daughter. The cop says it was an accident and won’t even entertain Kyung-yi’s inference that he killed himself so his family could have the payout.
The other ajusshis nearby start talking too, and are spurred on further when Santa comes bustling over with a smile and some yogurt drinks for everyone. One of the ajusshis goes on a rant saying how over the past two years, workers from the chemical plant started dying one after the other.
Kyung-yi keeps playing it cutesy and gets the ajusshis to keep talking, and learns that each of the other workers died from a different cause. She notes to herself that something is fishy.
Next we see her in church, carrying on and giving a huge donation to ingratiate herself there (but when no one’s looking she gives Santa the eye and he takes back her envelope of money).
While Kyung-yi is lingering in the halls looking at Min-gyu’s daughter’s artwork, the pastor comes over and introduces her to Yoon Jae-young, who was the wife of Kim Min-gyu. Kyung-yi introduces herself as Kim Sun-mi, which is “coincidentally” the name of Min-gyu and Jae-young’s daughter.
Meanwhile at NT Life Insurance, Je-hee combs over the records of the other workers from the chemical plant. Kyung-soo is suspicious of anything that Kyung-yi says, but Je-hee says her hunches are usually right. He says there are a lot of rumors about Kyung-yi — that she bit a client (Je-hee says he deserved it) and that she killed her husband (Je-hee says there is always something to learn from rumors).
We cut to Kyung-yi weeping about the sudden loss of her husband to Jae-young, giving a heavy-handed performance about how God told her the insurance payout was a gift for her. Kyung-yi leads her on almost grotesquely, saying she should not give up her pursuit of the payout, and not to tell anyone her husband was depressed and acting strange before his death.
Santa serves them tea (I love how he is always absorbed into the environment somehow) and watches from the corner. Finally, Kyung-yi’s act gets Jae-young to admit something. She says she doesn’t believe her husband is dead, and that he would never take his own life, but that she can’t wait for him because she needs the money to pay for her daughter’s hospital bills.
Back in the high school, we see Kyung digging around in an incinerator of sorts, and the other girls crying. It seems like the kittens are dead, and Kyung suggests that someone did it intentionally. Only one kitten has survived.
Kyung-yi reports back to Je-hee and they say there is nothing suspicious about the other deaths from the plant. The only lead is that Min-gyu’s phone was turned on three months after he was declared dead.
Kyung-yi and Santa are given the location the phone had pinged, and stake out a seedy intersection full of motels. Kyung-yi stands on a nearby roof surveying everything like Batman, and slowly sees a pattern going on with the cycle of deliveries.
Back at the school, Kyung is doing the same, standing on the ledge of the school roof and looking down at the other girls in the courtyard. Her friend is with her, and they’re running through a list of people who could have killed the kittens.
Kyung cheerfully says that the can of tuna found by the kittens smelled sweet, which means it was probably antifreeze. Her friend says that whoever killed the cats also deserves to die.
Kyung-yi relocates from her rooftop perch and tells Santa they need to get a room. They call in some food delivery, and Kyung-yi offers to pay the delivery guy for “that thing.” He asks for even more money and then hands her a little baggy of pills. Kyung-yi looks like she has another good idea.
We cut to Kyung-yi carrying on with her crocodile tears (again) about her missing husband, talking to a woman with blue hair in a sequin dress who seems to be a prostitute from the motel. Santa and the delivery guy observe from the neighboring table while Kyung-yi gets the woman to talk about all the weirdos that have been to the motel in the last year.
Kyung-yi asks in particular about a guy that wore a mask the whole time, and then pretends that that was her husband (though she theorizes it was Min-gyu since the dates match with the cell phone ping).
As she continues to dig, she learns about a yacht party and a supposed “curse” on the boat, but before the woman can finish her story, Kyung-yi takes off with Santa on her heels, having heard all she needed to know. She thinks through the case, wondering if Min-gyu is very much alive and staged his own suicide.
The next day we see Kyung-yi at the church again, watching little Sun-mi sing in the choir while mentally analyzing her drawings. These clues lead her to Jae-young’s car, where grocery bags full of food that she would never give to her diabetic daughter confirms: Min-gyu is alive, and his wife is hiding him. Now to find him.
Back at the high school, we see Kyung sneaking around in the dark. She puts gloves on, spikes a drink in the refrigerator, and sneaks about before some arrives — the janitor, mumbling about the cats.
Kyung-yi fakes an attack on Jae-young’s car as a distraction (giving Santa a screwdriver and telling him to have at it), and then makes a beeline for Kim Min-gyu’s house. She calls Je-hee at the door for the birthdates of the family so she can crack the passcode, but before she can try, Santa opens the door from inside — he’s slid in the side window without making a peep. She compliments him and his little smile is adorbs.
Of course Min-gyu is not in the house, but rather than leave after breaking and entering, Kyung-yi lays on the floor thinking about where Min-gyu might be hiding. She sees a baby monitor and pops up with a sudden idea.
The cop that Kyung-yi spoke to a few days ago drives Jae-young and her daughter home, saying how hard it must be to raise her alone. Sun-mi insists she has a father, and the cop agrees that her dad is watching her from heaven.
Behind the house, Kyung-yi has found a bunch of burnt trash that’s very suspicious. Santa runs over to her with the baby monitor from inside the house; there’s a lot of static but a voice can be heard. Kyung-gi looks at the range of the monitor, establishes how close the other monitor must be, and the two search the immediate area.
Jae-young is outside the house and reminds her daughter how she’s supposed to talk about her dad when they are around others.
Kyung-yi finds a very abandoned-looking trailer not far away, and inside, the other half of the baby monitor. The feedback from the monitor makes this scene even more tense, as Kyung-yi stalks around and tells Min-gyu to come out.
Min-gyu takes off into the woods behind the house and Kyung-yi pursues. The man shrieks, “I’m not him!” and attacks Kyung-yi quite desperately. She falls to the ground as he runs away, but she soon gets up to follow him. Min-gyu stops in front of a tree with a glowing mark on it, and Kyung-yi soon sees it too and follows, running in the pitch dark with her flashlight off.
The man reaches a clearing and a creepy building that he’s forced to hide in. Just as Kyung-yi approaches, dirt and sand around the entrance starts to crumble and block the door (seems like it’s been boobytrapped?). Kyung-yi digs the door open and sees a dead body inside, getting eaten by maggots. Someone nearby watches this scene play out through a pair of binoculars.
We cut to the janitor of the high school as he pours his poisoned makgeolli; he’s immediately sick and it looks like he dies. Kyung sits on the floor in the hallway of the school fussing with her rubber gloves and seems satisfied.
The scene fades back to the classroom, where the high school girls rehearse some lines about a poisoned drink. Kyung’s friend wonders how much the janitor had to drink “for that to happen,” and Kyung answers that alcohol can save you if you’ve drunk antifreeze, because it detoxes the stomach. Then it gets super creepy when she hugs her friend and says, “I wanted to kill him, but I guess it wasn’t enough.” Her friend rightly freaks out and jumps up, but they’re interrupted by the teacher coming in saying there’s a policewoman here to talk to them.
We knew it was going to be Kyung-yi, but the reveal is still great — she’s quite a commanding presence all decked out in her uniform. When Kyung smiles and says she left early that day and declines being questioned, Kyung-yi says firmly, “I will decide whether you have nothing to say or not.”
We then return to Kyung-yi’s midnight chase of Min-gyu, and see that Kyung-yi noticed the person behind the binoculars. As the clouds blew by, the moonlight revealed Kyung’s face. Kyung-yi stares up at her in the darkness, and we cut to the ending credits.
Oh boy! That got damn creepy near the end, and not being one that enjoys sociopathic child killers, it kind of ruined the quirky fun I was having for most of the episode. But I did have fun. It was quite a good first episode — great characterization, a dark and quirky sense of humor, and a setup that’s fun because our heroine is worth following around.
I have zero context on the original story (Killing Eve) that our drama is based on, so I’m taking Inspector Koo completely on its own, as a standalone story. That being said, I like our weird and subversive heroine, her abrasive personality, her hermit-like ways, and her obvious skill at investigating. The gamer element also adds a lot of fun to the story, and the onscreen menus and sound effects were well-used and added a lot of color to the story. Also, Lee Young-ae is pretty awesome.
But turning to Kim Hye-joon, man I knew she was a good actress, but she’s positively shuddery here. She is as convincing as she is creepy, and even though I was surprised when her actions intersected with Min-gyu’s plot so fast, I’m glad to see her already faced off against Kyung-yi. There’s no waiting for their storylines to intersect, because even though we’re not sure exactly why they are intersecting so soon, it’s the perfect bait to lure us into Episode 2.
While the color and humor of the drama really appealed to me, the creepy side of things did not, so even though I know the main storyline is the game of cat and mouse between these two, I’m secretly wishing for a plot that’s the same dark, quirky fun, but with less antifreeze and vomit.
As to Kyung-yi’s case and the insurance fraud, everything made sense and fit together until the very end. I have questions about what happened to Min-gyu, about Kyung’s involvement, and about where they even were at that point (the school grounds?). Seeing how Kyung-yi’s definitely not a police officer anymore, and the softly tinted lighting in the high school scenes, I’m assuming we’re moving back and forth in time but I guess we’ll have to wait for the next episode for confirmation.
I imagine that the case will be wrapped up soon and that we’ll follow Kyung-yi as she investigates additional cases. As to how episodic it will be, or if Kyung will be the string that ties them all together, I don’t know — I can only hope the story stays quirky and cohesive. The premiere episode was just that, so I expect more of the same style of storytelling, punctuated with the dark humor and weirdo moments that made this enjoyable.