Through the Darkness: Episode 1
Yay, Kim Nam-gil is back! Dark, gritty, and unforgiving, this foray into a series of crimes in the late 90s brings us alongside a tenacious detective as he struggles to uncover the truth of a convoluted case. Despite having the odds stacked against him, there’s an uneasy feeling in his gut that he just can’t ignore, and that intuition may be exactly what he needs to bring forth justice.
Editor’s note: Update! Coverage will now continue with weecaps.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
May, 1975. It’s Children’s Day, and the amusement park is packed full of excited kids enjoying their day off with their family and friends. Over on the lake, a young boy, SONG HA-YOUNG, and his mother are riding a swan boat when two boats of overzealous teenagers crash into them. The impact sends Ha-young’s balloon flying and Ha-young himself toppling into the water, and his life vest slips off him.
Sinking slowly, Ha-young comes face-to-face with a lady in red, suspended in the water and staring back at him. She doesn’t move or blink an eye, but the moment is broken when Ha-young is hauled up to shore.
Back on land, the police have retrieved the dead woman’s body. As she’s being loaded into the ambulance, little Ha-young runs over to pull the sheet over her bare feet, bless his heart. Understandably distraught, his mother soon scoops him up and away from the corpse. Over her shoulder, Ha-young peers at the crowd, and that’s when he notices a man in a baseball cap slink away unnoticed.
March, 1998. A man walks through a shrouded alleyway, clad in a wig and women’s clothing. He’s on a sting operation, but no one’s taken the bait so far. In a car, grown-up Ha-young (Kim Nam-gil) and his partner MOON TAE-SOO (Moon Dong-hyuk) continue their stakeout for the Red Cap, a criminal who has been breaking into women’s houses to rob and sexually assault them.
Amidst the complaints of the undercover officers, their team captain eventually allows them to retreat for the night. Tae-soo can’t wait to go home, but Ha-young is reluctant to give up so soon, so he tells Tae-soo to go on ahead.
Ha-young begins patrolling the streets alone, and that’s when he notices a man loitering suspiciously in front of a building. The man puts on a red cap, seemingly the criminal they’ve been looking for. When he attempts to scale a wall, Ha-young calls out to him, casually pointing out that the house he’s trying to climb into doesn’t seem like his own, ha.
Red Cap takes off running, and Ha-young gives chase, eventually catching up and yanking him down. Thus begins a fistfight, and despite Red Cap pulling out a knife, Ha-young takes him down with a few swift moves and well-timed kicks, handcuffing him.
Unfortunately, further investigation reveals that this guy is just a copycat criminal, and he has alibis for every Red Cap incident. Still, Ha-young’s gaze remains fixed on him even as he’s ushered into the detention center. Musing aloud, he wonders what motivations the copycat had for imitating those crimes.
Senior Inspector PARK DAE-WOONG (Jeong Man-sik) overhears this as he passes by, and remarks that he doesn’t care to know the thoughts of such scum. Tae-soo concurs, and the pair head off for lunch. Ha-young stays behind to pore over stacks of documents on the case, determined to get to the bottom of it.
May, 1998. Red Cap has racked up a total of 12 victims, but the police still haven’t been able to apprehend him. Meanwhile, CHOI HWA-YEON (Yoon Hye-ri) steps out from a doctor’s appointment, and the nurse reminds her to bring her baby’s father with her next time.
It’s raining when Hwa-yeon gets off the bus to head home, so she grabs a newspaper that someone left behind to shelter herself from the rain. On the front page is an article about Red Cap, and oh no — it might have been bait, because Red Cap is on that very same bus, and he gets off to follow after her.
Hwa-yeon senses something amiss, but when she turns around there’s no one there. She manages to make it home, and thank goodness, she’s not alone! Her mother has come to visit with bags full of kimchi. Hwa-yeon tries to convince her mother to stay the night since it’s raining heavily, but her mother insists that she has work the next morning, so Hwa-yeon ends up sending her off with money for a taxi.
Freshly showered, Hwa-yeon begins preparing dinner. Once her back is turned, though, someone accosts her, pressing a hand over her mouth to muffle her startled scream. Phew, it’s just her boyfriend, who’s come to give her a surprise. She’s relieved, but still somewhat unsettled, so she asks if he can stay the night. Unfortunately, he too tells her that he can’t skip work. Pulling him into a hug, she tries to coax him into staying, since his place of work is “just” a pojangmacha.
Taking issue with her choice of words, he suddenly flares up at her, accusing her of looking down on him. Hwa-yeon’s equally frustrated, and she fires back that he acts like he has an inferiority complex. Clenching his fists, he advances upon her menacingly, then punches the wall beside her. Instinctively, Hwa-yeon raises her hand to protect their baby in her belly.
Out on the street, Hwa-yeon’s mother is about to get into a taxi, but ultimately decides to take the bus instead. Back in the house, Hwa-yeon is pinned down, strangled by a man’s hands. Eventually, she goes limp.
As a man in a black raincoat walks down the street and into a minimart, a news broadcast reports that a woman in her 20s was found dead, stripped of all her clothes. Frazzled by the news, the minimart owner nervously asks the man what he’s looking for. He ominously asks if she has a pinky, saying that he wants to eat it. Terrified, the owner reaches for the telephone, but the man pushes back his hood to reveal that it’s just Ha-young, craving for a chocolate snack that looks like a pinky, ha.
Snacks successfully obtained, Ha-young heads to Hwa-yeon’s house to investigate the crime scene. At the front door, he notices that the lock has been broken, and there’s the number 2 written on the wall. Inside, the police are busy collecting evidence, and Ha-young asks an officer about Hwa-yeon’s relatives.
Upon hearing that Hwa-yeon’s mother was taken to the hospital due to her condition deteriorating, Ha-young goes to pay her a visit. He’s about to leave when he notices that her feet are exposed, and in a quiet callback to the first crime scene he ever witnessed, he pulls the covers over her feet.
Over dinner, Tae-soo gossips that Ha-young always seeks out the bereaved family first whenever there’s a crime. He wonders how Ha-young can be comfortable with being such an outcast, and Dae-woong points out that maybe he’s intentionally isolating himself from others.
Back at home, Ha-young can’t fall asleep, still haunted by thoughts of Hwa-yeon and the dead woman in the lake.
At the Seoul police agency, forensics chief KOOK YOUNG-SOO (Jin Sun-kyu) badgers the chief of the special crime squad, HEO GIL-PYO (Kim Won-hae), to establish a scientific investigation team. Gil-pyo won’t hear a word of it, since the higher-ups are sure to reject the proposal anyway. Undeterred, Young-soo addresses the whole station, asking if they have any idea how important profilers are. In response, superintendent BAEK JOON-SIK (Lee Dae-yeon) dismisses him with a chuckle.
At the medical examiner’s office, an autopsy has pinpointed Hwa-yeon’s estimated time of death to be around 10 p.m. to midnight. Despite having had her clothes stripped, it turns out that there’s no sign of rape. That makes Tae-soo suspect BANG KI-HOON (Oh Kyung-joo), Hwa-yeon’s boyfriend, whose visit to her house coincides with the timeframe of her murder.
Dae-woong and Tae-soo apprehend Ki-hoon at his pojangmacha, but Hwa-yeon’s murder is news to him. They’re convinced he’s the culprit, despite his shock and distress at Hwa-yeon’s death.
In the interrogation room, Ki-hoon insists he didn’t do it, but Dae-woong staunchly refuses to believe him. When asked about his alibi, Ki-hoon says that he went to the Han River to cool off after fighting with Hwa-yeon, and Dae-woong fixates on that as a murder motive. Building on a tip-off from someone that saw a man wearing a red cap in the vicinity around the time of Hwa-yeon’s death, Dae-woong questions if Ki-hoon was also behind the Red Cap incidents.
Dae-woong presses Ki-hoon for evidence to prove his innocence, and that’s when Ki-hoon remembers that the door hadn’t been locked. However, Dae-woong is still adamant on Ki-hoon’s guilt, and Ki-hoon slams the table in frustration. That gives Dae-woong further ammunition, since coupled with Ki-hoon’s prior record for assault and his history of being in a gang, it makes for a convincing case of murdering his girlfriend in a fit of anger. Then, Dae-woong asks if Ki-hoon knew that Hwa-yeon was pregnant, and his gaze immediately snaps up in shock and despair.
Over drinks, Young-soo is drunkenly espousing the benefits of a scientific investigation team to Gil-pyo and Joon-sik. Intrigued, Joon-sik asks who will be the profiler that Young-soo keeps going on about, and Young-soo replies that he knows just the guy.
In the station, Ha-young looks over crime scene photos of the broken front door lock. Tae-soo mentions that the second floor landlord had been robbed about a month ago, and Ha-young heads out to visit the crime scene again.
On his way out, he passes by the interrogation room, where Dae-woong is pummeling Ki-hoon to extract a confession from him. Ha-young refuses to turn a blind eye to it, and Dae-woong shoves him out into the hallway. Telling Ha-young that he hasn’t even been able to get a decent alibi from Ki-hoon, Dae-woong asserts that Ki-hoon obviously killed Hwa-yeon.
Ha-young counters that he wants to find conclusive evidence before pinpointing anyone as the culprit. He stands his ground, refusing to let Dae-woong’s abuse continue, but Dae-woong pulls rank. Advising Ha-young not to act up against his superiors, he patronizingly tells him to just go out and catch criminals instead.
Ha-young does head out, but it’s to Hwa-yeon’s house. Determined to find conclusive evidence, he reinspects the crime scene. He questions a neighbor as well, asking her which other houses had break-ins in the area. She says she’s heard of about three or four, but the police didn’t pay them much mind, since the stolen goods aren’t of much value.
Just then, Ha-young notices the number 233 written above the neighbor’s doorbell. He asks her if she wrote it, but she says she didn’t.
Heading to the local precinct, Ha-young learns that a total of five break-ins had been reported, and that the burglar never targeted houses that had men living in them. That gives Ha-young pause, and he goes to check out the houses that had been broken into.
The first house, in which a single mother and her two children live, is marked with the number 233. Two sisters live together in the next house, which has the number 22 on the front wall. A young lady lives alone in a house that’s marked with the number 2, and a house with a married couple is marked with the number 12.
Ha-young soon realizes that every third house has been marked with a number, but he’s stumped as to what the numbers could mean. Just then, a deliveryman on a motorcycle speeds past, and that strikes an idea into Ha-young.
Entering the local precinct again, Ha-young asks for a list of the neighborhood eateries that offer delivery. He’s figured out what the numbers represent — 1 for an adult male, 2 for an adult female, and 3 for a child. Only a deliveryman could have figured out who lives in which household with such ease.
The next morning, however, the news broadcast reports that Red Cap has been arrested at the scene of a crime and subsequently admitted to all charges. Upon entering the police station, Ha-young tries to inform Dae-woong of his findings, but Dae-woong brushes him off. He’s already managed to coerce a confession from Ki-hoon, complete with a thumbprint. The freshly-arrested suspect drawls that Ki-hoon isn’t the culprit, but Dae-woong’s too cocky to pay him any heed.
Convinced that Ki-hoon’s eyes aren’t those of a murderer, Ha-young pays Hwa-yeon’s mother another visit in the hospital. He mentions Ki-hoon, calling him Hwa-yeon’s boyfriend, but Hwa-yeon’s mother is surprised to hear that her daughter had a boyfriend. Lamenting that Hwa-yeon would still be alive if only she’d agreed to stay the night that day, Hwa-yeon’s mother wails despairingly over the loss of her beloved daughter.
Later, Ha-young gives Young-soo a call to ask for a favor. They meet up at Hwa-yeon’s house, where Ha-young points out that Ki-hoon wouldn’t have left the cup with his prints on it if he’d cleaned up everything else. In that case, Young-soo muses, the crime was probably premeditated and the culprit could have been hiding and lying in wait. He pulls open the curtains of Hwa-yeon’s clothes rack, revealing just enough space for a person to fit into. There’s a fingerprint on the metal frame, and Young-soo carefully lifts it with Ha-young’s help.
Dae-woong finds out that Ha-young requested for a fingerprint analysis, and he angrily confronts him about it. Scathingly, he declares that the case is closed since Ki-hoon admitted to it. With a pointed look at Dae-woong’s boxing gloves, Ha-young murmurs that the confession was a coerced one, setting Dae-woong off on a furious tirade that Ha-young walks out on.
Unfortunately, the fingerprint analysis comes back inconclusive, since they weren’t able to identify the print. Despite Young-soo’s attempts at reassuring him that he’s tried his best, Ha-young’s still bothered by the little details that don’t add up. If the crime was premeditated, why did the killer strip Hwa-yeon when he’d have been busy enough trying to cover his traces?
With a small, amused smile, Young-soo asks Ha-young if he’s heard of profilers, also known as criminal behavioral analysts. Listing the necessary qualifications, such as tenacity, an open mind, and sensitivity, Young-soo tells Ha-young that he possesses all of them. He gives Ha-young a book to read and snacks to eat, then extends an offer for Ha-young to join his team as a criminal behavioral analyst.
Young-soo tells Ha-young that he doesn’t have to decide right away, but that the offer’s open. In response, Ha-young cracks a small smile. Aw, he’s got a good friend in Young-soo.
At the crime scene reenactment, Dae-woong’s forcing a cowed Ki-hoon to act out his assumptions of how the crime took place. Ha-young can only watch uncomfortably as Ki-hoon’s smacked around, close to tears. In the end, the case is closed, and Ki-hoon is sentenced to twelve years in prison. Ha-young has no choice but to file the case away, and he leaves the station with a heavy heart.
August, 1999. A young deliveryman, KANG-MOO, gets off work in good spirits, amidst praise from his boss for being a filial grandson. However, as he walks out, the jovial smile on his face drops. Putting on a red cap, Kang-moo’s face hardens into a derisive snarl.
Watching people pass by from a shadowed street corner, Kang-moo eventually sets his sights on a young lady walking home alone. He stalks her to her house, then waits for the lights to flicker off before leaping over the wall and breaking in. Inside, he strangles the young lady the same way he’d murdered Hwa-yeon, and when it’s all over, the young lady lies dead in her house, stripped of all her clothes.
Morning dawns, and Ha-young drives down the road, eyebrows furrowed in steely determination.
In a professor’s office, young Ha-young is doodling with crayons. It’s a drawing of the dead lady in the lake, and the professor comments that she looks sad. When asked why, Ha-young replies that it’s scary to be that deep underwater. Displaying a precocious level of empathy, Ha-young says that the lady must have been sad and afraid, since her mother wasn’t with her.
After their session, the professor tells Ha-young’s mother that it’s not that Ha-young can’t feel emotions. In fact, it’s the opposite — he feels emotions too deeply, so he can perceive others’ inner feelings. We see Ha-young returning home, drenched from the rain despite having left the house with an umbrella. When she asks why he didn’t come home with his umbrella, he brings her to where he left it. He’d seen a dead cat on the way home, so he left his umbrella over it to shield it from the rain.
The professor explains that ever since discovering the body in the lake, Ha-young recognised a discrepancy between his own emotions and the reactions of others, leading him to realize that he’s different from others. Hence, he tries his hardest to conceal his emotions. Gazing at her son tenderly, Ha-young’s mother gently reassures him that she’ll give the cat a proper burial, and little Ha-young finally lets himself cry in his mother’s arms.
Oh, my heart. It was evident from the opening minutes of the episode that the lady in the lake would leave a profound impact on the young Ha-young, but the final few minutes of the epilogue really drove in just how much of his emotions he’s been repressing all this while. He has an innate instinct to connect with people, through offering them whatever little comfort he can, and it’s heartbreaking to think that he now distances himself from others because he’s realized that they don’t and won’t do the same. His genuine empathy is such a rare trait in today’s world, and it’s awful that it made him think he was different and wrong rather than special and precious.
And of course! Kim Nam-gil! You have no idea how excited I’ve been for his dramaland comeback, omg, and as usual he does not disappoint. I first fell in love with his acting more than a decade ago, when I watched Queen Seon-deok, and he quickly became the first ever actor I became a fan of. I’m so stoked to report that not only is he as charismatic and captivating as ever, but his acting has also become even more compelling — the look in his eyes! I’m always in awe at how easily and effectively he’s able to portray a whole tempest of emotions without a single word at all. The character of Ha-young can so easily come off as stilted and one-dimensional in his single-minded pursuit of the true criminal, but Kim Nam-gil plays him with a humanity that grounds him and makes him so enjoyable to root for. His portrayal of Ha-young’s compassion is so understated and subtle that it tugs at my heartstrings all the more.
I appreciate the realistic touches in this drama, such as how Ha-young was ultimately incapable of stopping Dae-woong’s abuse. So often in dramas we see the protagonist singlehandedly interfere and even successfully counter such power trips, even despite being of a lower rank, so it felt believable (albeit sad and helpless) to watch Ha-young struggle to defend Ki-hoon to no avail. I like that this drama isn’t afraid to let its hero falter and fail, because the relative lack of protagonist plot armour raises the stakes and gives the story more gravitas.
In that vein, I was surprised that Hwa-yeon’s justice ultimately slipped through our hero’s grasp, and that Ki-hoon was unable to be exonerated (or at least, not yet). Ha-young was so close to cracking the mystery of the case, so it felt like an even bigger blow to have it all snatched away from him when the carrot was dangling right there. It makes for such good storytelling though, and I’m even more invested in this story than ever before. While I’m nervous for what further atrocities the reappearance of the criminal may portend, I’m also eagerly anticipating more clever investigations, insightful deductions, and sensitive inquisitions into the human condition.
I’d also like to comment on this show’s portrayal of police brutality in the form of Dae-woong’s confession coercion and physical abuse of Ki-hoon. It’s no uncommon sight in crime and cop shows, but I found myself genuinely struck by this show’s depiction of it. Watching it made me viscerally uncomfortable, to the point where I had to glance away from my screen to catch a breather from Dae-woong’s relentless intensity. I think it was done well, without running too overdramatic or exaggerated, and it served to reflect the unfortunate fallback on underhanded measures in the blind and desperate pursuit for justice. Despite not condoning his actions, I understood how Dae-woong’s anger could have arisen on behalf of the young victim who had her life stolen away too soon in such a perverse manner, as well as how his impatience and jadedness prevented him from giving Ki-hoon a single chance to defend himself. I do hope he comes around soon though, because his violence is simply awful, and he ought to take responsibility and make amends for it.
Last of all, I’m really enjoying the dynamic between Ha-young and Young-soo! It’s so heartwarming to see their easy cameraderie, especially given how isolated and misunderstood Ha-young often is. Of course, solitude doesn’t necessarily mean loneliness, but it’s nice to know that someone’s got Ha-young’s back. Not only does Young-soo clearly accept Ha-young for who he is without any judgment whatsoever, but he also holds his capabilities in such high regard. I’m looking forward to the development of their partnership — more affirmation and validation for Ha-young, please!