The Killing Vote: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
When the law fails to hold criminals sufficiently accountable, ought the public take its stead? SBS’s crime noir The Killing Vote digs into this question as it sets the stage: in response to mounting fury over meager prison sentences, a masked vigilante offers citizens the chance to play jury in a nationwide killing vote. If the law won’t uphold justice, then the people will claim it themselves.
Editor’s note: This is an Episode 1 review only. For a place to chat about the entire drama as it airs, look out for the forthcoming Drama Hangout.
We open eight years ago, with detective KIM MU-CHAN (Park Hae-jin) sprinting through a rainy night. He’s in pursuit of KWON SEOK-JOO (Park Sung-woong), who’s currently plunging a knife into his daughter’s murderer. Again. And again. By the time Mu-chan arrives, the man is long dead, and Seok-joo turns to face him with an eerily blank look in his eyes.
Fast forward to the present day. Mu-chan is on a mission to track down an illegal broadcasting ring, aided by the undercover cyber crimes cop JOO HYUN (Im Ji-yeon). He bursts into the thugs’ underground hideout just in time, saving Hyun from a crisis and successfully apprehending the culprits.
However, Hyun notices Mu-chan sneakily planting evidence to secure a conviction — but he catches on, swiping her phone and leaving our resident whistleblower in the dust.
At the police station, the broadcasting boss is under suspicion for the death of a popular streamer. When the man refuses to confess, Mu-chan suddenly switches the interrogation cameras off and slams his head onto the table repeatedly. “Should I add assaulting an officer to your charges?” Mu-chan threatens, as blood trickles down his forehead. Whoa, Mu-chan does not hold back.
Meanwhile, Hyun is getting chewed out by her boss for not picking up his calls. Her teammate KIM JO-DAN (Go Geon-han) relays her phone to her, and she gets the rundown of Mu-chan — he’s scaled his way up to the top with his extreme methods, but he’s certainly not the apple of the higher-ups’ eyes.
The child pornography offender BAE KI-CHUL is released after a mere eighteen months in prison, and he’s every bit as unrepentant and cocky as you’d expect him to be. Mu-chan has little patience for such arrogance, and he deliberately loosens his grip on the piece of scum, allowing the furious protesters to drag Ki-chul away and stomp on him before he’s ushered into the car.
That night, Hyun helps her younger sister MIN (Kwon Ah-reum) clear up the malware on her computer. While doing so, she discovers an unusually large file — it’s a video of a man in a dog mask, threatening to eradicate the “rotten people” from society.
The next day, phones across the country light up with the same screen — an invitation to participate in a nationwide killing vote. Within the next hour, participants can decide on the fate of Bae Ki-chul. Should he be executed, or not?
Ki-chul scoffs at the idea, dismissing it as a powerless opinion poll and even voting in favor of his own execution. As expected, the vote passes with a majority of 84%, and Ki-chul awakes tied to a chair in his own hideout. The masked mastermind has a perverse, yet fitting, sense of justice — Ki-chul dies surrounded by the money he hoarded, filmed by a camera just like his victims were.
Releasing the video of Ki-chul’s murder, the vigilante announces that he will be conducting these killing votes biweekly. Those who have evaded the law will find themselves in his crosshairs, and it’s up to the public to sentence them — a majority vote exceeding 50% will lead to execution.
Since public sentiment is leaning in the masked Robin Hood’s favor, no one wants to lead the investigation into him — no one except for Mu-chan, that is. In exchange, he barters a promotion to the HQ investigation team, claiming there’s a case he needs to chase.
A special investigation squad is formed, and Hyun approaches Mu-chan with the video she found. Hyun has noticed something odd — the masked executioner refers to his targets as “devils who were deemed not guilty,” using the exact phrase Seok-joo used in his final testimony eight years ago.
Flashback to that rainy night. Calling Seok-joo “hyung,” Mu-chan pleads for him to put an end to his rampage. In response, Seok-joo merely smiles, bleak and forlorn.
Ooh, so interesting! I wonder what Seok-joo’s relationship to Mu-chan is, and how involved Mu-chan was in his daughter’s case. Mu-chan may be a bit of a loose cannon now, but was he always that way, or did Seok-joo’s tragedy change something in him? Mu-chan keeps his emotions close to his chest, which makes for a fun contrast against the headstrong Hyun and her endearing sidekick Jo-dan.
We also have a range of intriguing supporting characters, from Min’s quietly observant classmate KIM JI-HOON (Seo Young-joo, yay!) to the principled reporter CHAE DO-HEE (Choi Yu-hwa). Then there’s Min and Ji-hoon’s homeroom teacher LEE MIN-SOO (Kim Kwon), who wears a ring that looks suspiciously digital. He’s also on a secret messaging platform, where he replies “yes” to a user named “Executioner” asking if they should start. Surely it isn’t pure coincidence that the first killing vote began right after that?
Then again, it’s certainly much too early to pin down our culprit just yet. The clues seem to point to Seok-joo, yet he’s locked away in prison. It’s implausible for him to be the masked spokesperson in the video, but what if that’s just a figurehead? Seok-joo seems to have built up a solid foundation of reputation and respect within the prison walls, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his reach extends into the civilian realm too. For all we know, Seok-joo could be pulling the strings from a distance, turning his opening act of vengeance into a broader operation.
From the glimpses we get of the incarcerated Seok-joo, he’s clearly no longer the desolate, despairing man of eight years ago. Not only does he have an air of self-assured gravitas, but we also hear his fellow inmates gossip that Ki-chul wouldn’t be alive — and wouldn’t have been released — if not for “Professor” Seok-joo. It seems like Seok-joo is at the apex of the prison hierarchy, which would certainly be the perfect place from which to send heinous criminals out into the open — and into the waiting hands of our masked executioner.
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