Life on mars - Drama recap by dramabeans

49 June 12, 2018June 12, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 1

by Helcat

I have been anticipating the arrival of this show for a while now—a chance to watch one of my favorite mystical, mystery crime shows redone in K-dramaland? With a side order of time-travel shenanigans? Yes please. The first episode does not disappoint, as our hero goes through the looking glass and must figure out which way is up in an alarmingly unfamiliar time.

The pilot was a rollicking ride at breakneck pace throughout, with a heavy mystery overlaid. There will be a lot of threads to untangle as the show goes on, and it can be confusing on a first watch—but that’s half the fun isn’t it?

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

We open on a young boy running along a railroad track. As he makes his way through a deserted industrial site and dank sewers, flashes of a woman writhing in pain and her limp hand dangling cut through the unsettling scene. The noises of a train crescendo as the boy runs towards the mouth of the tunnel.

Our hero, HAN TAE-JOO (Jung Kyung-ho) wakes from the nightmare to his phone ringing.

It’s his mother, calling to tell Tae-joo that he doesn’t need to come all the way home for the anniversary of his father’s death. Although his mom reassures Tae-joo that his father would understand, she is relieved to hear Tae-joo confirm he will come. Tae-joo doesn’t look very happy though, as he stares down at a picture of him as the young boy, with his mother and father.

At the police station, Tae-joo is stopped from going into work by a bloodied man who is flailing a weapon about and trying to escape the other officers’ clutches. As if the desperate man is merely an inconvenience, Tae-joo looks bored as he effortlessly tosses him to the ground.

As Tae-joo makes his way up the stairs, blistering whispers of “whistleblower” from the other officers follow Tae-joo’s ascent. This may be the reason Tae-joo pauses wistfully at an active case, but moves on to forensic drudgery instead. An irate yell interrupts his work.

Prosecutor JUNG SEO-HYUN (Jeon Hye-bin) looks to be popular at the station, as she is warmly greeted by a senior police officer.

Tae-joo’s assailant angrily accuses Tae-joo of ruining his life, and stabbing another police officer in the back by reporting him for internal investigation. Unrepentant, Tae-joo answers that the officer got off lightly considering an innocent man had been locked behind bars for three years because of the old-fashioned methods (testimony) that were used in the case.

Furious, the officer yells that Tae-joo isn’t a hotshot officer any more, and advises him, “Stay quiet and lay low if you betrayed your own family. Who do you think you are, acting like a real detective?”

The man’s words hit their mark, and Tae-joo walks silently away.

In the parking garage, Seo-hyun follows Tae-joo and lightly comments, “You’re still the same. You get the same hate wherever you go.”

Tae-joo doesn’t even bat an eye at her words, and gets inside his car. Out of earshot, Seo-hyun adds, “You still ignore people when they talk to you.”

Not one to be ignored for long, Seo-hyun hops into the car as well and breezily informs Tae-joo that she has something to say to him. When Tae-joo tries to hurry her, Seo-hyun insists that they go to a nice restaurant together, since they haven’t seen each other in a year. Tae-joo mutters, “You’re still self-centred.”

Seo-hyun smirks, “Isn’t that why we dated in the first place?” Tae-joo wryly replies, “That’s why we broke up.”

Aaand the “nice restaurant” is a crime scene (ha), though Tae-joo looks unsurprised at Seo-hyun’s trickery. Seo-hyun explains that this is the home of 22-year-old Lee Seung-hee who was murdered by a serial killer in the “Manicure Murder” cases. The killer managed to kill seven girls in total before he was captured, and in all the cases he gave the girls a manicure before murdering them.

Seo-hyun assures Tae-joo that they caught the right guy, but he is a perfectionist and left no hard evidence behind—he even went so far as biting off his own fingertips to remove fingerprint evidence.

Seo-hyun asks Tae-joo if he knows why she liked him. Tae-joo quips, “Because I was handsome, smart, and talented?”

Smiling, Seo-hyun admits that the handsome part is right—but he was also arrogant, self-righteous, and caused trouble wherever he went. Despite all that, Seo-hyun adds, she was attracted to him because he was so competent. Tae-joo astutely points out that Seo-hyun makes it sound as if he isn’t competent any longer.

While Tae-joo investigates the room, Seo-hyun holds out the case file and states that if he does well at this he can go back to his old team, and get back to doing field work again. Tae-joo looks tempted, but he refuses to take the file. Seo-hyun sighs and agrees that if he doesn’t feel confident, he shouldn’t take the case—even if the old Tae-joo could have handled it, the current one clearly can’t.

Tae-joo briefly looks animated, but he schools his features and says nothing.

Outside, Seo-hyun playfully flirts with Tae-joo, “Do you want to have something to drink before you go?” Although Tae-joo refuses, he’s smiling.

Seo-hyun holds out a paper bag and tells Tae-joo she found this while cleaning. Clearly affected by the tin of childhood mementos, Tae-joo carefully takes out the signed baseball (the same one from his visions as a child). Seo-hyun impishly says she would have sold the box if she knew it was valuable, and Tae-joo admits this baseball was really difficult to obtain. His father gave it to him in 1988 after clinging on to the tour bus.

Seo-hyun asks why they never went to a baseball game when they were dating, and Tae-joo’s face falls as he says, “After that day, I started hating baseball.”

Later that evening, Tae-joo thoughtfully goes through the “Manicure Murder” case file, and something about the women’s hands grabs his attention—a train squeals in his head and he flashes to the woman he saw as a young boy. Shaken, Tae-joo rings Seo-hyun and agrees to work the case, even though the trial is coming up quickly.

On the day of the trial, Seo-hyun smiles as she considers Tae-joo in his suited glory and announces, “You finally seem sexy now.” Tae-joo doesn’t try hard to hide his pleased look as he allows Seo-hyun to adjust his tie.

The forensic analysis finally comes through, moments before Tae-joo enters the trial room. Whatever it says, Tae-joo doesn’t look happy about it.

As Tae-joo takes center stage at the trial, he explains the timeline of the murder—at 7:37, prime suspect Kim Min-seok saw Lee Seung-hee for the first time as she was walking home. He followed her into a store, and freaked her out so much when he creepily smiled at her that she ran all the way home.

But Min-seok stalked her back to her apartment and forced his way in. Min-seok painted Seung-hee’s nails while she was drugged, and stuffed her underwear into her mouth until she suffocated.

At Seung-hee’s apartment and the convenience store, Tae-joo explains that he found dust from the incinerator Min-seok works at. The defense attorney scoffs that this isn’t enough evidence to convict Min-seok, and points out the lack of DNA, blood, or fingerprint evidence. To make things extra creepy, Min-seok waggles his fingertips at Tae-joo—bitten raw and shiny.

Like a boss, Tae-joo says that he didn’t find any of this but, “I never said there wasn’t anything else.”

The murmur of the crowd gets more excited as Tae-joo explains that Min-seok left bodily fluids behind at the crime scene that prove he was there. Seo-hyun looks triumphant, but Tae-joo hesitates before he reveals that he suspects contamination of the crime scene. Evidences 2, 4, and 5 came back with the DNA of multiple criminals… all of whom who are already dead.

In the aftermath, Seo-hyun demands to know how long ago Tae-joo found out. With a one-track mind, Tae-joo can only focus on the false evidence, but Seo-hyun’s disappointment shines through as she accuses Tae-joo of having no faith in her.

The judges in the case have no choice but to let Kim Min-seok walk free. Disconcertingly, Min-seok greets Seo-hyun warmly in the corridor and taunts her that she would look wonderful with a red manicure. Eyes tightening, Seo-hyun warns Min-seok that one more word will see him facing sexual harassment charges, before she stalks away.

Min-seok isn’t finished though, as he thanks Tae-joo for setting him free. Min-seok studies Tae-joo and asks, “Have we met before? You look familiar.”

Hours later, a disconsolate Tae-joo is woken from his drunken state to his phone ringing, where he has three missed calls from Seo-hyun, and an urgent banging at his door… Because Seo-hyun has gone missing.

Her car was abandoned in the middle of the road, and an officer frantically tells Tae-joo that Min-seok was seen on this road around the same time. No trace can be found of Min-seok at any of his previous addresses.

Tae-joo finally listens to the voicemail Seo-hyun left, and it isn’t good news—Seo-hyun was following Tae-joo’s hunch that something was off about the case and discovered there was someone else behind Min-seok.

Sightings of Min-seok send the police careening off in search of the killer, his recently vacated car showing signs that he is still in the area. Focused, Tae-joo leads the hunt, and is about to investigate a suspicious house when shouts from afar tip Tae-joo off to Min-seok’s whereabouts.

The chase is on, as Tae-joo pounds after Min-seok, through the narrow streets and over fences. As Tae-joo tackles Min-seok to the ground, he demands to know where Seo-hyun is, but Min-seok isn’t cowed and refuses to answer.

A mad look on his face, Min-seok tells Tae-joo where he remembers him from now—he remembers the crying, scared boy Han Tae-joo from years ago, and mocks Tae-joo for forgetting who Min-seok is. Frenzied, Tae-joo throttles Min-seok, only stopping when a gun is suddenly thrust to his head.

A shadowy figure looms behind Tae-joo, as Min-seok runs gleefully off into the night. Tae-joo asks who the person is and starts to turn… and is shot right in the head. Tae-joo collapses.

His hand twitches.

Blood streaming from his head, Tae-joo stumbles back to the empty police cars, noting that the radio station is set to 198.8… and a car slams into him. For the second time that night, Tae-joo collapses.

Eyes blank as he lies on the road, the train clamors through Tae-joo’s head again, as we see young Tae-joo running with tears down his face away from a man calling his name.

Tae-joo wakes up to a man screaming at him to get out of the road. Curiously, it’s the middle of the day, Tae-joo is wearing some spiffy new threads, and the radio tells him that it’s the year 1988.

Despite the man demanding that Tae-joo pay for damages to his car, Tae-joo walks away unconcerned, too confused by his new surroundings to pay attention.

A jaunty new soundtrack accompanies Tae-joo as he flounders down the street, all signs pointing to it really being 1988—from the natty clothes to the 1988 Olympics banner to the war drill blaring out across the street.

Shocked, Tae-joo can only stare as he comes face to face with a real army truck in the road.

Two police officers, LEE YONG-KI (Oh Dae-hwan) and JO NAM-SHIK (Noh Jong-hyun), warn Tae-joo to get out of the road, and ask to see his ID.

But at that moment, Tae-joo spots murder suspect Kim Min-seok (how did he get here?!) and without pause runs after him. The two cops operate on instinct and chase after Tae-joo as well… which is how we end up in the middle of a caper, with all four men trying to run through a crowded market and clambering inelegantly over fishing boats.

Tae-joo finally grabs hold of Min-seok and throws him to the ground. Gasping for breath, the two cops handcuff the now-still Tae-joo and whine that he shouldn’t have run so fast. Poor young Nam-shik even vomits from the unexpected exercise.

But when Tae-joo rips off the man’s mask, it isn’t Min-seok at all, and Tae-joo has just been chasing an innocent man all over town… or maybe not so innocent, as the two cops realize this is one of the criminals they have been hunting.

Back at the police station (where there are worrying posters on how to spot a North Korean spy), Yong-ki and Nam-shik warn Tae-joo that he won’t like it if their captain has to get his ID from him.

Sure enough, when their captain KANG DONG-CHUL (Park Sung-woong) strolls in, he takes one look at Tae-joo cuffed to his seat and kicks him to the ground. Grinning, Dong-chul says this is the only way to make punks listen.

Unfortunately for Tae-joo, Dong-chul recognizes him and seems to think that Tae-joo is someone else entirely—someone who apparently urinated excessively where he shouldn’t have.

Tae-joo asks in disbelief, “Are you a cop too?”

Grandstanding, Dong-chul boasts, “Let me tell you about myself. I’m the great captain Kang Dong-chul who serves justice! People who can’t control their lower abdomens should get theirs cut off.”

Before Dong-chul has a chance to use the scissors he is now wielding, his two police buddies step up and point out that Tae-joo isn’t the man they were looking for—that’s the person being held in the cell.

Dong-chul blusters that Tae-joo shouldn’t have wasted their time then, and asks who he is.

Tae-joo deadpans, “I’m a cop.”

All three men visibly take a step back. Ha!

Tae-joo informs them he’s a police officer in the Seoul Metropolitan police department under the forensic science division.

Just when it looks like Dong-chul is repentant for roughing up a fellow police officer, he starts laughing in Tae-joo’s face. Dong-chul sneers that if Tae-joo wanted to lie, he should have done a better job of it than getting the police station’s name wrong and making up divisions to go with it!

Growing increasingly irate, Tae-joo insists that he IS a cop, which is Dong-chul’s cue to take off his watch and swing a punch at the infuriating lunatic cluttering up his station.

As we knew he would, Tae-joo effortlessly stops the punch and the two men are suspended for a moment in a standoff. Tae-joo warns Dong-chul that he won’t keep still if he throws another.

Like a flag to a bull, Dong-chul puffs up and orders his men to take the cuffs off Tae-joo, because he wants to fight. Dong-chul brags that he won an Olympic medal in 1966, so Tae-joo had better watch out.

Reluctantly, Nam-shik does as he says. Dong-chul lands a few good punches and kicks on Tae-joo (and hilariously pauses to celebrate), pushing him across the room. Tae-joo retaliates, simply by grabbing Dong-chul’s leg and walking him backwards across the room, which may be even more humiliating than getting punched.

Meanwhile, Nam-shik retrieves a fallen letter, his eyes widening as he realizes what it is—and braves the testosterone-laden fight to show it to Dong-chul.

Remarkably, it’s a letter from the police director to approve Tae-joo’s transfer to Dong-chul’s precinct. Astonished (and still slightly suspicious) that Tae-joo was telling the truth, Dong-chul complains that someone should have told him they were sending someone over. Shaking off the fight, he advises the equally surprised Tae-joo to forget what just happened.

Dong-chul offers introductions (of a sort) of his team—brave Yong-ki and useless Nam-shik. Yong-ki looks disgruntled that Tae-joo is younger and a higher rank than he is, while Nam-shik is just sorry for the mess they put Tae-joo in.

With matters somewhat settled, Tae-joo finally has time to contemplate this strange turn of events. He narrates, “Is this a dream? Have I gone crazy? If not, why am I here right now?”

The entrance of female police officer YOON NA-YOUNG (Go Ah-sung) interrupts his train of thought. Yong-ki immediately greets her as Ms. Yoon and asks for a coffee—a request echoed by Dong-chul and a clearly smitten Nam-shik. Dong-chul carelessly asks her to wash his mug for him (it’s definitely the ’80s, guys). As an afterthought, Dong-chul introduces her to Tae-joo, who watches Ms. Yoon with interest.

But his moment of peace is ruined as Tae-joo starts to hear hospital bleeps and blood trickles from his ear—clutching his head, Tae-joo runs past a concerned Ms. Yoon and out the door. Disembodied voices race through Tae-joo’s head, giving instructions to call for a doctor.

Panicked, Tae-joo lurches outside and into the middle of the road, where he is rescued by Ms. Yoon. Distraught, Tae-joo demands to know whether it is really 1988, mouth twisting at Ms. Yoon’s confirmation.

Wandering aimlessly, Tae-joo finds himself standing outside a bar, faint music enticing him inside the luxuriously decorated establishment. Tae-joo asks to use the bar’s telephone, getting more desperate as all the numbers he dials are out of service. The barman comes back with a drink and comments, “You have no idea what’s going on, do you?”

Tae-joo looks up sharply, and the barman continues, speaking as if he knows more than he should—such as that Tae-joo is a detective, and that he feels out of place. But Tae-joo dispels his suspicions as the barman clarifies that Insung can be confusing at first, and warns Tae-joo that there is really only one detective with a nasty temper he should avoid—Kang Dong-chul.

Speak of the devil and he will appear; Dong-chul struts in. Getting down to business, Dong-chul asks Tae-joo why he was even sent here to a dump like this. Prickled by Dong-chul’s brash attitude (and the number of Tae-joo’s drinks he pinched), Tae-joo spits, “I’m more interested in that answer than you are!”

Surprised, Dong-chul recommends that Tae-joo just go home for today, and come back rested tomorrow. There’s a home for Tae-joo here?

There is indeed, as Ms. Yoon shows him around the spotless apartment. Before she leaves, Tae-joo asks how he should address her, but isn’t satisfied with her answer of “Ms. Yoon, Yoon, or ‘hey.'”

A sweet moment passes between the two when Tae-joo instead says, “Goodbye, Officer Yoon Na-young.”

Outside, Na-young smiles shyly at the respectful name, and repeats it proudly to herself. Aww.

Irritated at the Olympics coverage, Tae-joo fiddles with the TV knob, but it breaks off in his hand and white noise fills the room.

An older man fills the screen in black and white, and muses, “Detective Han Tae-joo is the problem. Will he be able to wake up?”

His attention grabbed, Tae-joo moves closer to the TV as the man continues, “They say that critical damage has been done to the brain but the soul doesn’t stay with the body forever. You can’t give up! Wake up! Han Tae-joo, can you hear me?”

Tae-joo desperately tries to connect with the man, and screams that he is here, but the man can’t hear him and walks away. Tae-joo falls into a restless sleep.

In his dreams, Seo-hyun gently wakes him and laughingly asks if he forgot he’s going to testify in trial today. Although desperate to believe this is real, Tae-joo finds the TV knob hidden within his suit, and when he turns around Seo-hyun has vanished and the walls are closing in.

Back in 1988, Dong-chul wakes Tae-joo up much less gently, bellowing that he’s late for work and they have a job to do. Irked, Tae-joo follows, the TV knob lying in the sore spot beneath his shoulder.

At the scene, Yong-ki informs Dong-chul that the victim is the missing woman from the coffee shop, and to Dong-chul’s disgust, he confirms that “that reporter” has already arrived at the scene. Knocking brusquely on the window, Dong-chul orders Tae-joo out to investigate.

A crowd is already pressing around the alley, and Tae-joo stops in shock as he takes in what he’s seeing.

It’s the body of a young woman, blood pooling around her head—and a perfect red manicure adorning her hands.

 
COMMENTS

Phew, well that was a cracker of a first episode!

First things first, this isn’t a light show—it is thematically dark, and from a practical sense demands your attention to keep up. But it’s rewarding as well, with a great story, moments of levity, and fascinating characters. And even though I knew most of the action would take place in the past, the present timeline was interesting enough that I was disappointed when we left it. I think that was largely due to Jeon Hye-bin’s delightful performance as the whip-smart prosecutor who can turn icy or flirty on a dime—and was the only one who could needle Tae-joo out of his funk. In addition to the story element, visually this is a beautiful show—lingering shots, saturated colors, fun action scenes.

The title of this show comes from the David Bowie song “Life on Mars” with the appropriate lyrics: “Take a look at the law man, beating on the wrong guy,” which Dong-chul quite literally epitomizes as he mistakenly beats up Tae-joo, since Dong-chul is firmly a cop of the ’80s, with quick fists and a swagger to match. He is the complete antithesis of our hero Tae-joo, who is rigid to the point of repressed, completely clinical and has an unbending ethical code which got him into trouble even in the present timeline. Dong-chul, the would-be king of his own unit, is going to challenge Tae-joo and I’m not sure who is going to come out on top.

What I do know is that both actors are bringing it in terms of characterization—Jung Kyung-ho plays Tae-joo as so self-righteous and cold that he is almost unlikable, a brave choice for a lead character. In the hands of another actor, Tae-joo might even be boring, but Jung Kyung-ho imbues Tae-joo with a world weariness and defeat that undercuts the monotony and hints at deeper secrets in his past. Likewise, the corrupt Dong-chul is a dinosaur but he’s a charismatic one, because Park Sung-woong plays him with a surprising amount of joyful exuberance. The subverted buddy cop relationship is off to a good start with these two.

The song “Life on Mars” works on two levels as well, because Bowie’s music is an iconic symbol of the ’70s, the era in which the BBC drama takes place. The new series has updated to the more recent 1988 (and I really loved that touch of the radio showing station 198.8 before Tae-joo woke in the past), but it doesn’t feel modern at all to my eyes. I was especially affected by the constant references to tension with North Korea throughout the episode, which heighten the danger to Tae-joo in more than one way, as a displaced person. There is an undercurrent of violence permeating this timeline, one which the citizens have to live with to a degree not felt in the present time. It is deliberately unsettling, and the dreamy, hazy shot of the tank in the street was striking in how surreal it felt for Tae-joo and for the viewer.

On top of everything, it comes back to the central question—is Tae-joo dead, in a coma, or really back in time? Where did his clothes come from if he traveled back in time, and where did the director’s letter come from? Does the mysterious barman actually know anything? So many questions have been raised, and the audience is just as much in the dark as Tae-joo is right now.

I have seen the original BBC drama Life on Mars, and I absolutely adore it, so I am anticipating good things just from the first episode here. It will be interesting to see if this version follows the story faithfully (which it very well could, given that there are only 16 episodes across two seasons in the original) or if it will forge its own path. I promise to come to this show with as clean a slate as I can (no spoilers!) and if anyone has seen it before, please do the same! The mystery is baked in to the story here, and it is best enjoyed with no spoilers.

I really do love the premise of Life on Mars, which is so much more than a crime show—it’s a dark, twisty, slice into the ambiguous past with a strong cast of characters to root for and to hate. The story is an interesting one, but it really depends on the execution, so I can only hope the show stays as good as this throughout.

 
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52 June 13, 2018June 13, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 2

by Sunny

Premiere week for Life On Mars loses no momentum in its second episode as Tae-joo tries to piece together what’s happened to him while simultaneously catching a killer. His rocky introduction to the team certainly doesn’t help matters, but nobody said time travel was easy.

 
EPISODE 2 RECAP

In the middle of a chaotic crime scene in 1988, our detective from 2018, Tae-joo, reels from the alarming similarities between this victim and the modern-day Manicure Killer’s MO. Fellow cop Nam-shik reports to their captain Dong-chul that the victim is a café employee who disappeared after stealing money from her boss. Additionally, the recent loss of her only family to illness spurs Dong-chul to conclude that she likely killed herself in despair.

Pesky Reporter Bae dogs Dong-chul for details while Tae-joo examines the body. Something about the blood pattern is off and he asks Nam-shik about CCTV footage. Nam-shik doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and is further confused when Tae-joo mentions an autopsy. He wonders why anyone would autopsy a suicide victim and Tae-joo announces she was murdered.

Tae-joo storms off, but his declaration was loud enough for the reporters to hear and they knock down Dong-chul in their frenzy. Tae-joo, on the other hand, doesn’t even notice the pandemonium following in his wake. He questions how this case is related to Kim Min-seok despite him only being 8 years old in this timeline. Whether Min-seok time-jumped with him, or is actually a copycat of this killer, Tae-joo resolves to figure it out.

The reporters have disappeared by the time Dong-chul catches up with Tae-joo, and he wastes no time grabbing the younger man by the collar. Fuming, Dong-chul demands to know how Tae-joo could assume it was murder just by glancing at the body. Tae-joo calmly points out that had the victim jumped, she would’ve sustained more than just a head injury, but she wasn’t bleeding anywhere else. He further explains that there was no blood spatter—it had pooled—meaning she’d been killed elsewhere and dumped in the alley.

Breaking free, Tae-joo starts to walk away but Dong-chul grabs him again. Still unconvinced and annoyed by Tae-joo’s attitude, Dong-chul is further shocked when Tae-joo declares that this isn’t just a murder—but a serial murder. Dong-chul scoffs and starts to rail on him when he spots ever-persistent Reporter Bae over Tae-joo’s shoulder, taking note of every word. Slapping on a bright smile, he tries to do some damage-control but Reporter Bae is already scurrying away to write up his scoop.

Everyone reconvenes at Dong-chul’s car and snickers when he walks up sporting ajumma pants (since his got soaked when he fell in the alley). Irritated, Dong-chul takes it out on Tae-joo by tossing his soggy pants in the backseat where Tae-joo was about to sit. Nam-shik innocently moves the pants only for Yong-ki to recline his seat all the way back. Dong-chul suggests he take the bus instead and offers to pay for the transport, throwing a measly coin at Tae-joo.

As they drive back, Dong-chul and Yong-ki laugh at their prank on Tae-joo. They predict he’ll be gone the rest of the afternoon (as the directions they gave would send him in the opposite direction) and are stunned when they arrive just as Tae-joo is getting out of a taxi. The cab driver runs up to Dong-chul for the fare and Tae-joo reminds him that he offered to pay transportation fees. Hee.

Tae-joo is taken aback to discover the autopsy is being performed at a health center and is even more dubious when he meets the medical examiner, MANAGER PARK. Luckily, Manager Park seems to know his stuff and immediately confirms that the victim was murdered. He also determines that she’s been dead for a day, was killed with a mallet, and was not sexually assaulted. He’s unsure about the white powder Tae-joo notices on her hands but agrees to test it.

Frustrated, Tae-joo asks about DNA testing and while the rest of the team is baffled, Manager Park is impressed at his knowledge. Unfortunately, the only way to do those tests is to send the body to America, which would take months.

Immediately after returning to the station, CHIEF KIM drops by to fume about Reporter Bae’s newspaper article. He berates the team until he notices Tae-joo, deducing that he’s the new transfer. Tae-joo just meets him with his trademark silent stare and Chief Kim snaps that he should salute his superiors. He storms out, grumbling about how rude they all are.

Afterwards, their teammate Na-young listens in as the team discusses the case, jotting down notes. Nam-shik reports that the victim took a delivery to a motel three days ago and hasn’t been seen since. The name for the room is likely fake and the owner could only offer a vague description for the occupant. Tae-joo wants to send a forensic team to check the room but Dong-chul has reached his limit and suggests they each do separate investigations.

Tae-joo heads to the records room in hopes of finding some connection to Kim Min-seok. As he flips through files, he hears disembodied voices and medical equipment beeping. The sound of a defibrillator echoes at the same time the lights flicker out and Tae-joo collapses to the floor. He notices a figure pass by in his peripheral vision but before he can investigate, the lights come back on and Na-young calls out to him.

Tae-joo asks her if there’s anything on previous serial murders but Na-young says they’ve never had such a case in their district. She shows him the files they have for female victims, but there’s no correlation. Changing tactics, Tae-joo asks for directions to the victim’s workplace but from the blank look on his face, her detailed answer isn’t going to be enough.

They question the coffee shop proprietress as to whether she’d noticed any men following the victim. She reveals that the girl had a lot of admirers and can’t remember anything special about the voice of the man who had called in her final delivery except that he seemed young. Finally, Tae-joo asks for a list of the rest of the deliveries she’d made that day. Confused, the owner replies she’s already given that list to the police and motions to a room behind a curtain.

Inside, the other three detectives are watching a dirty movie. Tae-joo whips open the curtain and Nam-shik rushes to click off the movie when he notices Na-young peeking over Tae-joo’s shoulder. The men exchange a few barbs and Na-young excuses herself. A booklet catches Tae-joo’s eye but before he can pick it up, Dong-chul slams his hand over it and snidely tells him to find his own clues.

The proprietress delivers the ashtray Dong-chul called for and asks if what the newspapers said about a serial murder case is true. Dong-chul scoffs but the woman wonders if the victim’s coworker could be the culprit. She says that the man was very interested in the victim and quit the day after she disappeared.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo find the man DJ-ing at another establishment but before Tae-joo can ask his first question, Dong-chul is already beating him up and dragging him away. By the time they start the actual interrogation, the DJ’s been stripped to his skivvies and his face is a bloody mess.

Tae-joo gets first crack but only manages to find out the man last saw the victim three days ago and had a “normal” conversation before Dong-chul takes over with threats and more violence. He accuses the DJ of murder, but the man adamantly denies involvement. He does admit to stalking, but quickly points out that he wasn’t the only one who followed her around.

As Dong-chul and Yong-ki continue to kick the DJ around, Tae-joo flips through the man’s file. A notation on hand surgery catches his eye and he tells the other detectives to stop. Dong-chul ignores him but Tae-joo points out that the man is incapable of bending his fingers and therefore couldn’t have painted the victim’s nails. Unimpressed, Dong-chul refuses to let him go but Nam-shik appears and reports that their suspect was at a funeral the day of the murder.

Back at square one, the team questions everyone with a connection to the victim but they don’t learn anything new. On his way out, Tae-joo hands Na-young a slip of paper with Kim Min-seok’s name and birthday and asks her to look into it.

That night, Tae-joo runs into Dong-chul on his way to check the crime scene again. They engage in a petty shuffle to get there first and Tae-joo wins but immediately zips back. Signaling Dong-chul to be quiet, they both peek around the corner and see a hooded figure crouched where the body had been found. They jump out together only to find that the figure is just Na-young.

Tae-joo flips through her notebook as Dong-chul reprimands Na-young. Sheepishly, she admits that she came because she was curious about the weird bloodstains on the wall next to the body. Tae-joo explains that killer must’ve initially propped the body up, but it had fallen over after he left. He then asks about her notes and Dong-chul reads a detailed psychological profile from the pages.

With a bashful smile, Na-young tells them she was a psychology major before she dropped out. Her notion that the murder wasn’t a crime of passion piques Tae-joo’s curiosity and Na-young points out that in those cases, assailants tend to attack the faces of their victims. The fact that this woman’s face was intact suggests he felt affection rather than anger.

Tae-joo wonders why he killed her, if he liked her. Na-young thinks the killer is an introvert who was trying to project his desires onto the victim but things didn’t go the way he wanted, so he lashed out. Dong-chul mockingly applauds her “fiction-writing” skills but Tae-joo argues that Na-young’s analysis could hold weight, pointing out that the killer didn’t kill the victim right away.

Na-young suddenly remembers a missing person report she’d received earlier about another girl who works in a coffee shop. The team wastes no time tracking down the correct shop and discover that this girl also disappeared after being called to deliver to a motel. They race over and burst into the room, scaring the bejeezus out of the cleaning lady. The occupant is gone but luckily the maid hadn’t gotten to the floor yet and Tae-joo notices some sugar spilled.

Ordering the other detectives to stay in the hall, he rushes to the bathroom and mixes up a soapy water solution. Back in the room he pours it over the floor and the team watches in awe as two footprints appear due to the change in pH balance. Dong-chul identifies them as combat boots and while the other detectives check nearby bases, Tae-joo remembers the DJ mentioning a soldier among the first victim’s suitors.

They drag the DJ back in but he says he’s only seen the man’s face once, at night. He’s happy to help though, reveling a bit at how the tables have turned. Unfortunately, even after looking through the pictures multiple times, he’s still unable to ID anyone and Dong-chul sends him home.

Taking a break at the bar, Dong-chul asks Tae-joo why he seemed to know details about the case. Tae-joo says there was a similar case back in Seoul, but the culprit got away. This surprises Dong-chul and he scoffs that the high-and-mighty Tae-joo made a mistake, wondering how the killer got away. “I let him go,” Tae-joo deadpans.

The smile slides off Dong-chul’s face and Tae-joo continues that he had the chance to arrest the guy, but let him go. Dong-chul mutters that Tae-joo was so condescending, but figures that mistake is what got him transferred. He asks if the culprit could be the same person but Tae-joo only says they’ll find out when they catch him.

The next morning, Tae-joo tries calling the Seoul offices again and asks for Seo-hyun. The person on the other line understandably has no clue what he’s talking about and he hangs up dejectedly. The mysterious barman calls out that sighing doesn’t solve anything and Tae-joo admits that he feels lost. “You are yourself, wherever you are,” the barman replies, “You’re not someone else. If you try your best in your situation, everything will settle back to normal.”

Stepping outside, Tae-joo hears the voice again and sees the man from the TV. “Don’t give up on yourself,” the man tells him, “You have to stay strong in order to wake up.” He urges Tae-joo to stay strong and never give up before disappearing again just as Na-young arrives. She tells him that she looked into Kim Min-seok but there wasn’t anything on him at City Hall. He asks if she can expand her search countrywide, but she says it’ll be difficult.

Remembering that there’s no database in 1988, he agrees that the task is daunting and would likely take years. Na-young asks what an 8-year-old boy has to do with their case, and Tae-joo soberly tells her that Kim Min-seok is a murderer. She’s confused and Tae-joo snaps that while he’s only a child here, in his timeline in 2018, Min-seok murdered seven people and kidnapped his ex-fiancée, Seo-hyun.

Na-young is taken aback at the mention of a fiancée but Tae-joo pushes on, telling her that he was chasing after Min-seok when he had an accident. After waking up, he was here and this murder case mirrored the cases from his timeline. A little freaked out, Na-young asks if he’s feeling okay.

Deflated, Tae-joo admits that he sounds crazy even to his own ears. Na-young jots down the number of a doctor she knows and urges him to get a checkup, earnestly worrying that he may have suffered psychological damage from the car accident with Dong-chul.

They finally hear back from the health center but Dong-chul can’t understand the medical terminology and passes the phone over to Tae-joo. Turns out Manager Park identified the white powder on the victim’s hands as calcium sulfate, the main component of plaster. The team is disappointed but Tae-joo reminds them that the first victim was kept alive one day before he killed her, which suggests that they only have nine hours left to save the second.

Based off the first crime, Tae-joo doubts the second victim was chosen on impulse, meaning the killer had to have stalked her as well. Dong-chul is positive the culprit isn’t from the area but they don’t have time to wade through official channels. Everyone is stumped at how to proceed until Dong-chul whips out a little black book.

Tae-joo watches as Dong-chul goes to work on the phone and before long, the station is packed with all the neighborhood leaders. Dong-chul tells the crowd that they’re looking for a young man that recently moved to the neighborhood and describes the details they know. It works and an ajumma recalls a strange man who lives alone, while another resident remembers the man purchasing camera film from him.

They check out the house and find a dark room with pictures of the first victim. Tae-joo acknowledges that Na-young’s analysis was spot-on about the “object of his desires,” as the culprit dressed his victims up like actresses. Dong-chul finds a jacket covered in briquette powder and Tae-joo points out that calcium sulfate is used in the production of briquettes.

Dong-chul drives the team to a nearby briquette factory and they split up to search. Tae-joo finds bags of calcium sulfate stacked outside a small building and he and Dong-chul go in to investigate. In the basement, they find the location where the first victim had been held and photographed along with the murder weapon.

Dong-chul busts the lock off a door and in a backroom they find the second victim, alive. Footsteps alert the men to the arrival of the culprit and when Tae-joo stands up, he sees Kim Min-seok standing in the doorway. He shoots Tae-joo a smirk before reattaching his face mask and sprinting away.

Tae-joo gives chase but temporarily loses him in a crowd of employees. Dong-chul catches up and Tae-joo crouches down to look for the telltale combat boots. They spot the killer at the same time and bolt after him, Dong-chul motioning for the other two detectives to circle around to cut him off.

Tae-joo tackles the killer and they roll down a hill. The killer jumps up first and kicks Tae-joo in the face just as Dong-chul runs up, shouting, “How dare you do that to a detective!” He and Yong-ki manage to catch and subdue the killer as Nam-shik checks on Tae-joo.

The reporters have already arrived when the detectives lead the culprit out to the police car. Catching up to the others, Tae-joo makes a beeline for the killer, and shoves him against a squad car. Ripping off the face mask, he’s shocked to see a face he doesn’t recognize. Tae-joo demands to know the man’s connection to Kim Min-seok but he’s never heard the name before.

Tae-joo goes ballistic and has to be pried off of him, while Na-young looks on with concern.

The team celebrates back at the bar, but while the others dance about, Tae-joo is lost in thought. He slips out—unnoticed by everyone except Na-young—and returns to the station. Reviewing the case file, Tae-joo notes that nothing connects to Kim Min-seok. Frustrated, he throws the file on the floor, wondering if the case really isn’t related to the killer from his timeline.

Na-young walks in and picks up the file and sweetly suggests that he get some rest since he hasn’t eaten or slept since yesterday.

Tae-joo: “I have no sense of reality right now. Everything I do feels like I’m floundering about in water. I have no idea why I’m here, and I can’t tell if this is reality or a dream.”

Tae-joo asks if he’s gone mad and Na-young tells him a story about when she was in college. She says she did some field work at a nursing home and met a man there suffering from a severe head injury. The injury made him forget what certain objects were called and he was frustrated and depressed. However, the next time she visited, he was happy. When asked why, he told her he’d simply stopped thinking.

“Get some rest, sir,” Na-young tells him, “You look like you’re struggling quite a lot right now.”

As he’s leaving, Tae-joo hears the voice again and he follows it. He finds the TV man and asks if he’s the one who’s been talking to him. The man replies in an echoey voice that he’s Tae-joo’s doctor, JANG WON-JAE, and that he’s speaking with him through Tae-joo’s subconscious. He explains that Tae-joo is currently a patient at Seoul Central Hospital and claims that Seo-hyun is there as well. At the mention of her name, Tae-joo advances on the doctor, but when he reaches out to grab him, he finds himself standing back at the end of the hall, where he started. Freaky.

Doctor Jang continues that Seo-hyun is waiting for him to wake up. Relieved that Seo-hyun is seemingly okay, Tae-joo asks if this means he’s comatose. “Everything you see, regardless of what it is, is not real,” Doctor Jang replies. He urges Tae-joo to break free from the “illusion” so he can return. Reiterating that Seo-hyun is waiting, Doctor Jang tells Tae-joo not to give up.

Next thing we know, Tae-joo is standing on the ledge of the police station roof. He flashes back to his last interaction with Kim Min-seok in 2018, the gunshot, his ears bleeding, and the echoey voices of nurses with beeping defibrillator machines. Doctor Jang’s last words replay in his mind and Tae-joo finds his resolve.

Tae-joo: “Everything finally makes sense now. I’m inside of a dream right now. Up until now, I’ve been dreaming within my subconscious. Let’s go back. It’s time to wake up now.”

Closing his eyes, Tae-joo dangles one foot over the ledge.

 
COMMENTS

Noooo! I don’t know why, but something about that last chat with the doc was unnerving. Up until that point, I was fairly convinced Tae-joo was in a coma and the hallucinations were the outside world seeping in… but now I’m not so sure. For starters, one way or another he must be lying about Seo-hyun. Because if she is there, why isn’t she trying to talk to Tae-joo as well? It’s weird to think she just turned up after everything that had happened. So maybe he’s lying just to give Tae-joo a push to wake up… but is that all? The way he said everything Tae-joo sees is an illusion is what really struck me. True, if you’re in a coma then everything you “see” should be a dream. But this is the most detailed dream ever and I’m sorry, but if your dream is powerful enough that you can feel pain and bleed, maybe it’s not such a good idea to try killing yourself to wake up. Just sayin’.

But… if this is just a coma, what the heck was Kim Min-seok talking about when he mentioned Tae-joo’s “other self?” That speaks more to some crazy intersecting timelines. My theory runs along the idea that somehow Tae-joo has two physical bodies and his consciousness is what’s doing the time travel. But then, what was his 1988 body doing before he arrived? I could go on, but I’m going to stop myself now before my head explodes trying to figure out the mechanics of this world. We’re only two episodes in, for pete’s sake!

I do have to wonder, though, whether we’ll be staying in 1988 or jumping back and forth. And if there is jumping involved, hopefully Tae-joo doesn’t have to literally jump every time.

For a darker show, the characters sure are fun. I really love the balance of our main trio, not only in personalities but skillset. Tae-joo is righteous to a fault, analytical, and a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Dong-chul, on the other hand, lives by a “the ends justify the means” ethical code, is street savvy, and surprisingly charming. Rounding them out though, is Na-young with her idealistic enthusiasm, and perception into people’s thoughts and emotions. She’s got such a pure heart and I suspect a budding affection for our displaced detective. He’s the only one who treats her with the respect she deserves and recognizes that she has something more valuable to offer than serving coffee and washing soiled trousers. She looked a little crushed when Tae-joo mentioned having an ex-fiancee and will surely be bummed when he returns to his own timeline, but I really appreciate that he already feels comfortable enough to confide in her (even if she thinks he might be a little crazy). As for the guys, they definitely started out on the wrong foot, but really came together over the course of the case. Their petty bickering was endearing to watch since Tae-joo is normally so stoic and when Dong-chul got upset during their final chase when the killer knocked Tae-joo down, I could see a beautiful bromance in the making.

Needless to say, I find this show fascinating. When Helcat first suggested it, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The plot was certainly intriguing and reminiscent of great shows like Tunnel and (to a lesser extent) Signal (who doesn’t love buddy-cop time-warp adventures to catch serial killers?). I’ve never seen the original, and as much as I definitely want to after what I’ve seen so far, I’m resisting until this one has ended. I’m curious how mine and Helcat’s experiences may differ on this journey. Perhaps this show will vary enough that it won’t matter, but it’s a fun experiment nonetheless.

 
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44 June 18, 2018June 18, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 3

by Helcat

Sometimes it can feel like the whole world is out to get you—but when you’re stuck in a nightmare past, maybe the whole world really does have it in for you. Tae-joo spends the episode trying to adjust to his new surroundings, with varying degrees of failure. Adrift, he still doesn’t know whom to trust or who knows what—but one thing he does have is sweet Na-young there to help him through the worst of it.

 
EPISODE 3 RECAP

On the rooftop, Tae-joo flashes through the confusing events of the past two days, convinced that it’s all a dream that he came from 2018 and landed in 1988. About to step forward to end his life here, fellow officer Na-young’s cry suddenly pierces the air, halting Tae-joo’s jump.

Na-young pleads with Tae-joo to step down, but Tae-joo remains unpersuaded as he gently explains that right now he’s actually in a coma and nothing in 1988 is reality. Na-young urgently asks Tae-joo to remember that she was the one who put him in touch with Dr. Jang in the first place, which is why Dr. Jang is checking on him.

From below, Dr. Jang is conveniently present as he apologizes for pushing Tae-joo too far and asks him to get down from the roof.

Frantic and confused, Tae-joo shouts that Na-young is simply an illusion and Dr. Jang his subconscious mind trying to keep him from waking up. Desperate to get through to him, Na-young climbs onto the rooftop wall beside Tae-joo.

At her wobbling steps, Tae-joo yells at Na-young to climb back down. The quick-witted Na-young points out that since she’s an illusion, she won’t die anyway if she falls. Tae-joo falters and Na-young presses her advantage by telling him they are both alive and can feel things. Taking his hand, Na-young holds it to her beating heart as proof and says, “Whether you are dreaming or from the future, I’m sure there is a reason you were sent here.”

Reaching out to him, Na-young asks Tae-joo to get down with her. Hesitantly, Tae-joo takes her hand.

As if to prove the folly of his mistakes, that night Tae-joo dreams of his doctor thanking him for staying alive—because for a worrying few minutes it seemed as if Tae-joo had “given up the will for living.” Well, that’s disturbing.

In the broken mirror, Tae-joo stares at his distorted reflection and asks himself, “What is this place?”

Cut to: a half naked man running from a bathhouse, with all four male detectives from Team Trouble in tow, in varying states of undress. A most hilarious chase scene ensues, with jazzy music to boot, that involves their captain Dong-chul pausing to grab an apple mid-chase, Dong-chul getting hit in the face with the suspect’s sweaty towel, and teammate Yong-ki unintentionally bashing Tae-joo with a rogue flying chair. I’m belly-laughing.

Dong-chul can’t catch a break today, as the suspect fires a coal briquette at him that shatters over his head, blinding him. Good ol’ Tae-joo can’t be stopped though, as he barrels into the perp and knocks him over.

Never let it be said Dong-chul is a man of restraint, as he takes his revenge on the suspect with a few well-aimed kicks. Dust-covered, banged up, and half-naked, Dong-chul looks ridiculous as he defiantly asks Tae-joo what he’s staring at.

Back at the station, Dong-chul mutters darkly that he doesn’t have time to attend any moral education seminars on preventing police brutality (though he definitely needs it) and meaningfully tells Yong-ki to go submit the evidence collected.

Na-young asks Tae-joo for a photo to go on the staff board, and hesitantly asks if he has talked to Dr. Jang yet. Tae-joo stiffly answers that he is just suffering from PTSD from his car crash, but he will get better with time. Satisfied, Na-young smiles slightly at the good news.

Two methods of interrogation are on show during the interview for (still undressed) suspect Park Byung-do, as Tae-joo deliberately sets out his police notebook and recorder—and Dong-chul just as deliberately lays out a pack of cigarettes and a very heavy ashtray. Byung-do glances nervously at Dong-chul.

Byung-do isn’t nervous enough to admit to being one of a few men to rob and beat 65-year-old victim Kim Myung-ja though, as he unwisely gets mouthy about not committing any crimes. To make matters worse, Byung-do laughs in Dong-chul’s face when he claims to have evidence to pin him to the crime—and adds that even if Kim Myung-ja was old enough to be a granny, she wasn’t his granny.

Bad move. Dong-chul slams Byung-do’s head into the table, while Byung-do shouts that South Korea is a democratic country that has no place for brutality like this. Furious, Dong-chul replies, “The world has changed into a better place, but you haven’t changed! That’s why I’m still going through all this trouble!”

Undaunted, Byung-do asks for an attorney to be called–because he wants a confinement review of his stay here. Uh-oh, this is directly because of Tae-joo.

Outside, Dong-chul is flabbergasted that Tae-joo would do something as silly as offering their suspect his Miranda rights (not introduced to South Korea until 1997), when he has already been convicted of a litany of scumbag crimes like beating up his wife and stabbing people.

Changing the subject, Tae-joo asks instead where Dong-chul got this supposed evidence from, and ignores Dong-chul’s squirrelly reply that it just came from “somewhere.” Following his instincts, Tae-joo is horrified to find Yong-ki and their teammate Nam-shik planting evidence from another case in suspect Byung-do’s clothes.

Angered, Tae-joo argues that following proper procedure will stop Byung-do’s crimes from being thrown out in court for police interference. Dong-chul is unrepentant as he tries to persuade Tae-joo that this is the only way to ensure that Byung-do stops stabbing people in broad daylight and leading his dangerous gang.

Byung-do’s calls from his cell interrupt the argument and fuel Dong-chul’s fury, so he immediately goes down to beat on Byung-do again. Tae-joo tries to stop him (using the ineffective argument that Dong-chul will get sued), but it isn’t going well—until head detective KIM KYUNG-SE walks in to stop the interrogation.

Bummed out, Dong-chul and Yong-ki watch all their “hard work” evaporate as Byung-do is released, attorney by his side. Dong-chul gets increasingly sulky as he fills out an incident report, until he bellows for the news to be turned off—as it fittingly reports on the death of (real life student protestor) Park Jong-chul at the hands of the police.

Unfortunately for sweet, dumb Nam-shik, he chooses this moment to “helpfully” inform Dong-chul that he learned everything they just did was illegal, that there are massive fines attached to tampering with evidence, and thanks Tae-joo for saving them. An irritated Dong-chul runs Nam-shik out of the office.

Dedicated to his work, Tae-joo doesn’t join the others for lunch, but one of the cleaners, Lee Jeom-soon, sweetly gives Tae-joo food left from a party she attended. Tae-joo thanks her.

As I’m beginning to suspect he does every morning, Tae-joo starts his day by asking himself what he’s still doing in this place.

A better start to his day comes as he has breakfast with the barman. The barman shakes his head that he warned Tae-joo not to make “that crazy boar” angry, because now he has no friends at work. Tae-joo neutrally answers that he’s used to it. How sad.

In an even sadder twist of events, Tae-joo arrives to a crime scene to find that the nice cleaner Jeom-soon has been savagely beaten by pickpockets. In flashback, we see that Jeom-soon had been cornered in an alley by the pickpockets, only for things to turn violent as she realized what was happening.

Despite it being broad daylight, and a busy street, the gang warned the horrified crowd away from helping Jeom-soon as she was beaten. Trying to protect her son’s ring from the thieves ended in her hand being broken.

To his horror, Tae-joo is informed that one of the identified men was none other than Park Byung-do.

A watching Dong-chul blames Tae-joo for Jeom-soon’s injuries and throws him to the ground in the puddle of her blood still staining the pavement. Dong-chul hoarsely accuses, “You did this. You know that?”

Stricken, Tae-joo returns to the police station and washes Jeom-soon’s blood from his hands. With hospital bleeps sounding loudly in his head, Tae-joo searches through the bathroom doors looking for someone. His doctor’s voice narrates that although Tae-joo responds to pain, he seems to be in a semi-coma at risk of brain death if he slips into a deeper coma without recovering first.

In the last stall, out comes head detective Kyung-se. Coolly observing Tae-joo, Kyung-se asks, “You want to go back, don’t you?”

Thrown for a loop, Tae-joo asks Kyung-se what he means. Kyung-se smiles sharply and tells Tae-joo that if he does a good job, he’ll be able to send him wherever he wants.

Confused, Tae-joo heads back inside, but pauses near Na-young’s desk. As he stares over at her, clutching his heart, a man’s voice softly croons in his head (the song is “Weed” by trot singer Na Hoon-ah):

“On a windy hill that nobody seeks out
there’s a nameless weed
If you were a flower, you would at least have a scent
But you’re a weed that has nothing”

At his own desk, Tae-joo is reminded of Jeom-soon’s predicament by the food she gave him, and turns to put it away in a drawer. Yong-ki has already left his mark there though, as a sticky piece of gum coats Tae-joo’s hand. Yong-ki obnoxiously stares Tae-joo down and sings part of “Weed” again as the whole station erupts into laughter.

Except for Dong-chul, who is too bothered by everything to even enjoy this childish prank.

As Tae-joo walks home later that night, Na-young hurries to catch him up and reassure him that Jeom-soon will be fine since she is out of critical care now. But that isn’t all Na-young wanted to say, as she asks that Tae-joo not think too badly of Dong-chul and not to deliberately keep people away. Na-young perceptively points out, “It’s as if you’re denying everything around you.”

Na-young adds that she is sure Tae-joo will start to like it here—and all of the people here—if he would just give it a try. Smiling, Na-young leaves Tae-joo with this thought to chew on.

Instead of going home, Tae-joo visits Jeom-soon in the hospital. Guilt-ridden, Tae-joo apologizes to Jeom-soon’s bandaged body that he never expected this to happen.

Dong-chul enters the hospital room, and by the dark look he sends Tae-joo’s way, he still hasn’t forgiven Tae-joo for his part in this. Scratch that, Dong-chul definitely hasn’t forgiven Tae-joo, as he swings a hook to Tae-joo’s face out of nowhere.

Tae-joo sputters in disbelief, while Dong-chul looks inappropriately pleased with himself and hushes his subordinate from making too much noise in front of the sleeping Jeom-soon. So Tae-joo punches him instead. And does the same hilarious shushing motion when Dong-chul indignantly demands to know how Tae-joo could hit his superior.

Finally, Tae-joo is speaking a language Dong-chul understands. A square kick to the chest sends Tae-joo flying into the bed railing opposite.

And so the two men try to have the quietest fight ever fought, as they work out their grievances with fists and kicks instead of words. They’re rolling around on the ground, Dong-chul on top of Tae-joo, as Tae-joo tries to gouge Dong-chul’s face when a horrified nurse walks in and demands that they stop… and the two cops immediately turn to shush her, ha!

The nurse scurries out after Dong-chul and Tae-joo prove they’re cops, and leaves them alone as the two continue the fight, slamming each other into walls and through the open hospital door across the corridor. It’s pretty great.

Finally, the fight subsides. Dong-chul points out that even if Tae-joo thinks his team is a bunch of wild animals, sometimes forensics and following the law isn’t enough to save people from dying. Clearly affected, Dong-chul sighs over the tough breaks in life Jeom-soon’s has been handed—a dead husband, sick son, and too many bills to pay for surgery.

In a gesture of repentance, Tae-joo offers to step away from the case, but Dong-chul states that Tae-joo can’t be that selfish—he must stay and help clean up the mess he made.

The next day, Nam-shik bounds up to Dong-chul and Tae-joo with Jeom-soon’s wallet, pleased that he could contribute to the case—and even suggests that they could get the prints from the wallet. Tae-joo’s face as he asks why Nam-shik is holding it with bare hands is priceless, as is Nam-shik hurriedly trying to wipe off his prints (along with any others) on his shirt.

It’s not good news though, as Yong-ki informs the team that the four pickpockets, including Byung-do, never meet up except when they plan an attack, which makes it more difficult to track them. Dong-chul looks thoughtful as Tae-joo notes the pickpockets only ever target women.

Yong-ki lays out how the four men work—Byung-do operates as an “antenna” on the lookout for good marks, two of the men knock into the target in an alley, and the last man slits the mark’s bag to steal the contents in the confusion. Yong-ki adds that it was this last man who beat up Jeom-soon.

Dong-chul orders Yong-ki and Nam-shik to search all the inns the pickpockets stayed at, and Tae-joo says that Byung-do’s former prison cellmates should be questioned as well given that the gang formed while he was incarcerated. Yong-ki grumbles that Tae-joo should do it himself, but surprisingly, Dong-chul backs up Tae-joo and orders a disgruntled Yong-ki over to the prison.

An interesting tidbit of information arises as Tae-joo speaks with Na-young—the women’s money wasn’t taken, but all their IDs were. Tae-joo muses on the implications, and offers to accompany Na-young to deliver evidence to the inspection team.

On the way, Na-young shows him that she kept the scraps of paper with letters on them that Byung-do had in his pockets, and they try and determine what flyer they were from. As Tae-joo goes to step on the bus, he recognizes the red writing on the advert and the same letters—it was from an advert for a large shopping mall sale, that just so happens to offer world credit cards.

Tae-joo and Na-young explain their theory to the rest of the team—the pickpockets deliberately target women they know own this credit card, and then steal their IDs to order a new card. Unfortunately, none of the cards have been used yet, so they can’t be tracked—Tae-joo suspects they are waiting to use the cards outside of Korea.

A thought sparks in Dong-chul’s head as he looks at Na-young examining the credit card… and all the men turn to her one by one as they catch on.

In costume (oh, those oversized blazers), Na-young poses as a woman with cash to burn, excited about her chance to prove herself to the team. Nam-shik worries over Na-young’s safety and swoons over how pretty she looks, while Dong-chul warns him and Yong-ki to look less conspicuous. Maybe you shouldn’t be here at all then, Dong-chul, ‘s all I’m saying.

Byung-do marks Na-young, and Na-young picks up an entourage as the rest of the thieves and all the cops pile on to the escalator. But Nam-shik’s concern spills over and he squeaks when one of the thieves goes to slit Na-young’s bag. This spooks the pickpockets, and Team Trouble tries, and fails, to look nonchalant. The pickpockets take off, and the chase is on.

In the small confines of the shop, our cops can’t get a good grip on the pickpockets, and most of them slip away. The chase spills out onto the streets as Dong-chul and Tae-joo pursue Byung-do, but they halt as Byung-do runs down a side street and takes Na-young hostage by the throat… only for Na-young to expertly tackle Byung-do and restrain him on the ground. Go Na-young!

Dong-chul looks happy enough to let Na-young do the dirty work, and cutely claps at her efforts. When it turns out that Yong-ki and Nam-shik lost all the others, Dong-chul even complains that Na-young is better than they are at the job. Having witnessed Na-young’s fighting prowess, when she abruptly makes a move, Dong-chul and Tae-joo reflexively flinch away, protecting their manly bits from her. Hee!

Back at the station, Dong-chul reluctantly lets Tae-joo take the lead in Byung-do’s interrogation. Tae-joo warns Byung-do that even though he can get a lawyer if he wants one… it would be better if he cooperated because his crimes of identity theft, data protection violation, and smuggling (once the card is used overseas) come with a very hefty prison sentence.

Taking Tae-joo’s hint, Dong-chul takes on the (unfamiliar) role of good cop, offering a visibly apprehensive Byung-do a cigarette and lamenting over how unfair it will be if he takes the fall while his friends swan around freely. Dong-chul entices Byung-do with promises of putting in a good word with the judge… and Byung-do jumps to flip on his accomplices.

The team hunts down the various pawnshops, trying to figure out which one is complicit in selling the stolen women’s items. Pawnshop owners not being a particularly scrupulous bunch, when Dong-chul and Tae-joo find the right one, it’s only because Dong-chul spots Jeom-soon’s ring that the duo gets their guy.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo lay in wait for the three pickpockets to arrive, and with a bit of luck (in the form of clueless Yong-ki and Nam-shik) and tomfoolery, two of them are captured immediately. The third escapes, with Tae-joo in hot pursuit. Determined, Tae-joo corners the man and subdues him in a fight, just in time for Dong-chul to show up.

Except Dong-chul decides he hasn’t had enough excitement in his life, and leaves Tae-joo to continue fighting with the pickpocket, sitting back and commentating from the sidelines. Ha!

Dong-chul’s game, of course, was to add another charge to the man’s rap sheet for assaulting a police officer. It’s only when Tae-joo is losing that Dong-chul saunters over to knock the thief unconscious—and he even has the gall to complain that Tae-joo wasn’t even more injured.

As the team wraps up the case at the police station, Dong-chul’s attempts to make amends with Tae-joo fall flat, as Tae-joo (understandably) backs away from Dong-chul as if he’s nuts. Resigned, Tae-joo says he knows that Dong-chul doesn’t want him on the team, to which Dong-chul deadpans, “Good, I’m glad you know.”

Dong-chul offers to send Tae-joo back where he came from, and although Tae-joo is wary, you can see the hope that Dong-chul might actually be able to deliver. Tae-joo really should have known better though, as Dong-chul phones the doctor and asks him to treat the crazy guy in the office. More seriously, Dong-chul informs a thoughtful Tae-joo, “You didn’t come here because we asked you. You came to us, because you wanted to.”

On a final visit to the hospital, Tae-joo gives Jeom-soon back her ring, and looks sadly down at her ill son (he of the multiple surgeries)… except Dong-chul was totally lying. The son’s “major” surgery was a circumcision, and Jeom-soon’s husband never actually passed away—he runs into the room to dote on his wife. Dong-chul, you’re incorrigible.

Their budding relationship growing, Tae-joo accompanies Na-young as she visits a camera shop, where she snaps a surprise photo of Tae-joo (under the pretense of hanging it on the staff board).

As he’s looking around, Tae-joo spots something that shouldn’t be there—a photo of his family, hanging prominently on the shop wall. Why am I so creeped out by that?

Tae-joo recalls the memory of the day the photo was taken, his father smiling and calling to him while his mother hugged him tight. In a strange coincidence, this is the very shop the family portrait was taken in.

For some reason, this scene of family harmony sparks panic in Tae-joo—and a nurse in the present time calls out that Tae-joo is having a seizure, as the machine bleeps ever louder in his ear. The wail of an air raid drill punctuates the moment as Tae-joo is deafened in both 1988 and the present time by the sounds of danger.

 
COMMENTS

A thought springs to mind watching this show—that life is nasty, brutish, and short (so says the philosopher Hobbes). It certainly seems nasty in 1988, as Tae-joo is put through the ringer for trying to uphold modern-day ethics, an innocent woman is mercilessly beaten, and rampant police corruption is deemed normal, even honorable. Tae-joo is really starting to feel the disconnect between 1988 and 2018 now, as his actions directly lead to Jeom-soon being placed in hospital. The longer that Tae-joo doesn’t understand how this world operates, the more I fear he will make a blunder that can’t be fixed. Not that anything he did in this episode was wrong, but there are complexities here that make it more difficult for Tae-joo. Modern forensics are not available, Tae-joo is working from incorrect police procedures, and he doesn’t understand the criminal context of the times—added altogether, it’s little wonder that he isn’t working at full capacity.

That isn’t to say that Tae-joo is dead weight in 1988, not by a long shot—rather that his methods aren’t a good fit right now, and he will need to adjust a little to survive. Which is exactly what he did at the end, as he used his own logical, evidence-based methods to leverage a confession out of Byung-do. Tae-joo might not have used his fists to apply pressure to Byung-do, but make no mistake—the threat of jail time was even more effective. I do wonder if 2018 Tae-joo would have been so willing to talk Byung-do out of his right to have a lawyer, and just how much of that can be attributed to Tae-joo’s guilt over Jeom-soon.

This episode also marks a thawing in relations between Tae-joo and Dong-chul, largely due to that incredibly cathartic (and frankly, hilarious) fight in the hospital. Here are two difficult and forceful personalities that clash at a fundamental level, but inch closer together as they find common ground in a release of tension. Even though Tae-joo is by far more civilized than Dong-chul, I find that it makes perfect sense he would be so willing to fight back—violence is the language Dong-chul understands best and logical Tae-joo knows this. Plus, Tae-joo isn’t exactly a stranger to violence himself, in necessary doses. It’s just a small amount of respect that Tae-joo has earned from Dong-chul, but I still smiled when Dong-chul trusted Tae-joo’s instincts by ordering Yong-ki to follow Tae-joo’s request and again when he trusted Tae-joo to lead the interrogation with Byung-do.

As much as I enjoy Dong-chul as a character though, I would like to take a beat here to point out how deeply uncomfortable it is to watch him violently and repeatedly beat up prisoners in his care, as well as scheme to plant evidence on Byung-do. These are not actions I can condone, no matter how upbeat the accompanying music is. Fortunately, the show knows this too, as Tae-joo stands against Dong-chul in these moments as an audience surrogate. In addition, the news report of Park Jong-chul’s death that upset Dong-chul adds a heavy reality to his actions. Park Jong-chul was a real-life student protestor who was tortured and died at the hands of the police in 1987. Park Jong-chul’s death sparked the June Democracy Movement, which led to the democratization of South Korea, as well as advance human rights laws in the country, particularly regarding the judiciary’s willingness to hold the government and police accountable for their crimes. The show isn’t shying away from this unsavory aspect of Dong-chul’s character, and I’m hopeful that Tae-joo isn’t the only one who recognizes the need for change. Dong-chul can learn as much from Tae-joo, and perhaps has already begun to do so, as Byung-do’s change of heart came directly from Tae-joo’s methods, where Dong-chul’s failed.

Thankfully, this show knows how to balance the dark with the light—and boy, is Tae-joo and Na-young’s blossoming relationship just lovely. Na-young is such a sweetheart; I just want to hug her, and on top of being empathetic, dedicated, and incisive, she is also a surprising badass. She really would be a fantastic police officer if she were offered more than mere drudgery work, and after her display in combat, I can’t help but think that Dong-chul will recognize this. Dong-chul is uncouth, but he’s no fool, and Na-young’s talents are wasted on paper-chasing.

Mystery of the episode: Why did Tae-joo react so negatively to his parents/father; and why was his family photo hanging up on a random shop wall?

Tune of the episode: During the chase scene, ’80s hit “Round and Round” by Nami plays.

 
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65 June 20, 2018June 20, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 4

by Sunny

Tae-joo’s time-traveling coma continues on its trippy trajectory but for all his answer-seeking, he only seems to find more questions. It’s no wonder that he feels more lost than ever. Unfortunately, criminals have no intention of waiting for him to figure things out, so he’ll have to push his own troubles aside in order to bring justice to another case.

 
EPISODE 4 RECAP

Following the discovery of his family photo at the camera shop, Tae-joo, our detective from the future, sets out to locate them. Unfortunately, the address is no longer valid and the current owner is no help. Dejected, he leaves but does attempt to place a phone call (presumably to his parents’ old number). An automated message declares the number out of service but when Tae-joo starts to walk away, the phone rings.

Tentatively, he picks up the receiver but instead of his mom’s voice, he hears hospital noise. A nurse worries that Tae-joo has had a sudden seizure despite his CT scan being normal. The doctor replies that it’s likely Tae-joo is having a nightmare… or remembering something unpleasant.

The doctor then addresses Tae-joo directly, saying that he’s suffered some nerve damage to his brain, but he will wake up. Then the line goes dead.

Shaken, Tae-joo starts walking again but the mention of an “unpleasant memory” stops him short just as the family photo mysteriously appears in his hand. He stares at the picture in a daze until his captain Dong-chul pulls up in his car and barks at him to get in—there’s been an incident.

A village chief has been found dead on the banks next to a field in the countryside. Apparently, he’d gone out to gather reeds to make brooms for extra cash only to be discovered by some folks who’d come to fish. Fellow officer Yong-ki points out a head-wound on the victim and suggests that he tripped and accidentally killed himself.

Dong-chul dismisses this theory, noting that the injury isn’t fatal, but wonders about the man’s heart condition. Yong-ki confirms that he’d had a large heart surgery two years prior and Dong-chul supposes it could’ve been a heart attack that did him in. To his surprise, Tae-joo actually agrees and he wonders if the sun rose from the opposite direction that morning.

Ignoring Dong-chul, Tae-joo points out a trace of vomit on the victim’s mouth. Leaning in close to smell it—much to the disgust of the other two detectives—Tae-joo assesses the cause to be potassium cyanide. Their teammate Nam-shik calls their attention to a nearby area littered with empty makgulli bottles.

Upon inspecting a bottle, Tae-joo finds more traces of cyanide, solidifying this as a murder case. Nam-shik snaps shots of the crime scene: the bottles, an overturned kimchi dish, and a few crumpled 10,000-won bills (roughly 10 dollars apiece), dotted with blood. A red knit scarf caught on a nearby reed catches Tae-joo’s eye.

Back at the station, Tae-joo finishes compiling the information from the initial investigation. They have yet to hear anything back on the forensics, so he opts to pay medical examiner Manager Park a visit at the health center. Before he can leave, a call comes in saying Dong-chul found the culprit.

Tae-joo arrives at a house and pushes through the reporters to join the rest of the team. In the kitchen, Yong-ki finds a block of potassium cyanide and excitedly calls out to Dong-chul. From an adjacent room, Dong-chul appears dragging a handcuffed woman behind him. Yong-ki proudly brandishes the cyanide and the reporters snap pictures, while Tae-joo curiously notes the bloody wounds on the woman’s face.

Later, the suspect, Yoo Soon-yi, sits quietly in the interrogation room as Nam-shik fills Tae-joo in on her background. Born and raised in the village, Soon-yi had suffered a head injury as a child that resulted in lasting effects on her mental development. Additionally, she has no family, save for a 7-year-old daughter, father unknown. Nam-shik adds that she makes a living by hunting pheasants with cyanide.

They’re joined by the rest of the crew and Dong-chul immediately begins questioning. Soon-yi confirms that the scarf is hers and that she’s heard of the village chief’s death but is quiet when asked if she often goes to the fields to hunt with her daughter. Pushing ahead, Dong-chul asks if she went hunting the day of the incident and Soon-yi is quick to say that her daughter Young-joo wasn’t there—she went alone.

Dong-chul doesn’t care about such details, but Soon-yi cuts him off, saying, “I did it.” To everyone’s surprise, she clarifies that she killed the village chief. Nudging the tape recorder closer, Dong-chul asks her to repeat herself and she does so without hesitation.

Although taken aback by the ease of her confession, Dong-chul rolls with it. Considering the case closed, he makes an announcement to the press that the village chief had loaned Soon-yi money (200,000 won, or approximately 200 dollars). However, when the chief demanded she return it, Soon-yi had grown angry and killed him. Dong-chul further claims that the cyanide in the makgulli bottles matched the block found in her home.

Next, Dong-chul drags Soon-yi down to the village to reenact for the press how she committed the crime. She readily complies, but has to be prompted every step of the way. They return to the field where Soon-yi is supposed to demonstrate giving the poisoned wine to Nam-shik (standing in for the village chief). She argues that Nam-shik is not the village chief but Dong-chul insists, emphasizing her desire to kill him. As he speaks, Soon-yi’s demeanor changes, her hands shake with anger and she grips the kimchi bowl tightly before launching herself at the “village chief.”

With a yell, Soon-yi smacks the bowl over Nam-shik’s head and tackles him to the ground. She continues to beat at him with her fists until the other officers drag her off. Terrified, Nam-shik scrambles away as Yong-ki holds her back and Tae-joo takes in her anguished screams.

The incident signals the end of the demonstration and as they lead Soon-yi back to the police van, a woman from the village breaks through the crowd and attacks her. She shrieks that Soon-yi is an evil wench and cries that they’d lent her money and food. Officers manage to pull her away but before they can get into the van, the enraged woman drenches Dong-chul, Tae-joo, and Soon-yi with a bucket of water.

In the confusion, the woman attacks Soon-yi. A little girl runs out and screams that her mother isn’t evil, but is held back by a younger woman. Dong-chul and Tae-joo separate Soon-yi and load her into the van. Both mother and daughter cry out for each other as it drives away.

Afterwards, the men clean up at the local bathhouse. Dong-chul tries to impart his “live and let live” wisdom on Tae-joo but he’s not having any of it and excuses himself just in time to avoid Dong-chul letting loose a massive amount of gas in the bath. Gross.

Nam-shik brings them their freshly laundered clothes along with the forensic report. Dong-chul proudly announces that there’s a perfect match for Soon-yi’s fingerprint as well as her blood type at the scene. He tells Nam-shik to add the report to the warrant documents, but snatching the document away, Tae-joo notes that there are six other unidentified fingerprints. Dong-chul is unfazed, arguing that so long as they have evidence for the victim and the culprit, anything else is an unnecessary expenditure of effort.

Outside, Tae-joo finally voices his concern that Soon-yi might not be the guilty party. Dong-chul snaps that just because she’s naïve doesn’t mean she can’t commit murder. He reminds Tae-joo of her violent outburst at the scene, chiding him for only looking at documents instead of people.

An argument between a customer and the bathhouse attendant temporarily draws their attention. The customer asserts that her child is young enough to come in free but the attendant isn’t buying it. Seeing an opportunity to prove his point, Dong-chul smugly tells Tae-joo, “The most important virtue of a detective is intuition. You need to recognize the culprit with an animal-like sense, intuition, and sharp eyes.”

Slapping a huge smile on his face, Dong-chul approaches the child and correctly guesses based on height and build, the child is 8 years old (the cutoff for free entry to the bathhouse being 7 years). He goes on to peg her birthday as sometime in April and while the child is awed, the mother grimaces at being caught in her deception.

Dong-chul throws Tae-joo a self-satisfied smirk as Nam-shik declares his boss as having shaman-like insight that solved ten cases in the past year. Gloating, Dong-chul comments that the child’s strong physique could lead to a promising future as a wrestler, only for Tae-joo to retort that “he” is a girl. Tae-joo walks off, leaving Dong-chul behind with the crying girl and her furious mother. Hee.

When they return to the station, Yong-ki informs them that prosecution will be arriving shortly to pick up Soon-yi. Dong-chul is pleased but they’re still missing the medical report, so he calls Manager Park to complain about the wait. Hearing that more tests need to be run, he releases an irritated sigh and passes the phone over to Tae-joo.

Tae-joo asks a few questions and requests a blood test as well before hanging up the phone. Fuming, Dong-chul asks what he thinks he’s doing. Tae-joo explains that he’d requested Manager Park to find out how much potassium cyanide the village chief had actually consumed and asks that Dong-chul hold off just one day on sending Soon-yi over to prosecution.

Stubborn, as usual, Dong-chul ignores Tae-joo and tells Yong-ki to prepare Soon-yi before picking up the phone to call the prosecutor’s office. Just as he starts to speak, Tae-joo presses the hook-switch on the base, disconnecting the call. He calmly repeats his request to wait one more day but Dong-chul dials again. Punching the button more fiercely this time, Tae-joo snaps that it won’t hurt anything to wait another day.

“Then by waiting one more day, will that change the cause of death?” Dong-chul explodes, reaching out to dial once more. Taking the receiver and slamming it into the cradle, Tae-joo declares, “The culprit could change.”

Tae-joo leads the way back through the field to where they found the body as Dong-chul follows behind, grumbling that he’s not Tae-joo’s chauffeur. Tae-joo throws back that he knows Dong-chul doesn’t have anything else to do, and Dong-chul wonders if Tae-joo’s always been this rude. Tae-joo snarkily replies he wouldn’t know—he doesn’t remember much of his childhood.

Reaching the place where the village chief had been discovered, Tae-joo checks his watch and announces that it takes ten minutes on foot to get from the place the village chief drank the makgulli to where he actually died. He explains that if Soon-yi had really put two spoonfuls of potassium cyanide in the bottle as she claimed, then factoring in the chief’s weight, he could’ve only had about five minutes before the dosage killed him.

Despite the discrepancy, Dong-chul argues that Soon-yi had willingly confessed, jokingly adding that it’s not like he beat it out of her. Tae-joo says he can’t know what Dong-chul did when he wasn’t looking. Offended by the accusation, Dong-chul snaps that even without her confession, there was plenty of that evidence Tae-joo is so fond of. However, Tae-joo concludes, there’s no motive.

It’s hard to believe that Soon-yi murdered a man over a measly 200,000 won, but Dong-chul doesn’t want to hear it, and firmly stands by his case. Tae-joo throws his own words back in his face, “If you only focus on evidence and the law, people will end up dead.”

Convinced Soon-yi is hiding something, Tae-joo questions her himself. It’s telling that Soon-yi can only offer vague answers such as “sometime ago” and “a lot” when asked when she’d borrowed money and how much she’d received. Turning off the recorder, Tae-joo asks Dong-chul how she could kill a man over money when she didn’t even know how much it was.

Tae-joo enlists the help of fellow officer Na-young to fingerprint all the residents of the village, and while Nam-shik assists them, the other two detectives opt to merely watch. Yong-ki accuses Nam-shik of taking Tae-joo’s side and balks when the rookie argues that they’re all a family.

When Tae-joo and Na-young join them, Nam-shik is suddenly struck with the idea to search for the kimchi that was found in the field, since each household’s kimchi would have a slightly different taste. The outburst only earns him a beating from Yong-ki, and Tae-joo and Na-young excuse themselves from the chaos.

Once alone, Tae-joo asks Na-young if she believes Soon-yi is the murderer. She agrees that it appears that way looking at the evidence, but in truth, she’s conflicted. Regardless, she’s impressed at Tae-joo’s commitment to the case.

Passing by Soon-yi’s house, they’re shocked to see angry graffiti on the wall. Tae-joo decides to take a look around and nearly jumps out of his skin when he opens the kitchen door to find Dong-chul testing the kimchi! Hee.

Meanwhile, Na-young is looking around the bedroom and one of the photos of Soon-yi and her daughter Young-joo on the wall catches her eye. She runs out to show Tae-joo and is so startled when Dong-chul leans over her shoulder to have a look, she slaps him. Ohmygosh, I’m dying.

The picture shows Young-joo wearing the red scarf instead of Soon-yi, and just as Na-young begins to wonder if it belongs to the daughter rather than the mother, Young-joo appears and snatches the photo out of her hand.

Young-joo runs off and the trio follows her all the way to the village chief’s home. There, they meet Seon-ja, the chief’s daughter—the same woman who’d held Young-joo back earlier—who’s tending to her sick mother. They also discover that the woman who attacked Soon-yi was the chief’s sister.

Seon-ja brings Young-joo out to speak with the detectives, but when Na-young asks about the scarf, she clamps her mouth shut. Dong-chul tries to bribe her with some spending money but the second he touches her, she freaks out. Oh no.

Manager Park wants to see them so they run down to the health center. When they arrive, he points out a bite mark on the victim. Based on the size, it’s clearly from a child, and after witnessing Young-joo’s reaction earlier, there’s no question that the village chief had sexually abused her. Still, they bring Young-joo in to be examined and Manager Park confirms it.

Tae-joo questions Soon-yi again and she says that the village chief hurt her daughter. Despite finding a viable motive, Tae-joo still believes she’s innocent. Unfortunately, his gut isn’t enough to sway Dong-chul, who remains firm that she’ll be picked up the next day by prosecution.

Tae-joo goes to the bar after work and the barman takes notice of his sour expression. Tae-joo admits that he feels stuck and the barman encourages him to fight. “You don’t seem like the type to lose,” the barman muses, “Maybe you’re fighting against the wrong person.” Tae-joo doesn’t know whom he’s fighting and the barman guesses that he’s fighting himself. He says that internally, Tae-joo is afraid of something.

At home, Chief Inspector is on TV and once more the man on the screen speaks to Tae-joo directly. (Last time I made a mistake thinking that Doctor Jang was the same man… whoops!) The man steps out of the screen and when Tae-joo looks up, the office from the show is now joined to his room.

Mysterious TV man says he knows Tae-joo feels like he’s stranded on an island and that the longer Tae-joo stays, the greater his fear will become. Whereas last time he’d told Tae-joo to stay strong, now he says it’s okay to give up if it’s too hard. He instructs Tae-joo to lie down, forget everything, and go to sleep.

When Tae-joo wakes up, the room has returned to normal. It’s still dark outside, but Tae-joo returns to the station. Na-young hasn’t left, so he brings her a drink and asks what she’s working on. Shyly, Na-young shows him the analysis she’s compiled for the case. Tae-joo compliments her on her profiling and at her confusion, explains that it’s a skill that will be needed in the future. Smiling, Na-young says she hopes so.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of Young-joo looking for her mother. Na-young puts her to bed on the couch while Tae-joo organizes what they’ve discovered from the remaining fingerprints on the bottle. Apart from the victim and Soon-yi, there were prints from the brewery owner, deliveryman, and supermarket owner who all have solid alibis. Any remaining partial prints were too small to compare to anything.

Na-young can’t help but wonder what Soon-yi and Young-joo were doing at the crime scene if they had nothing to do with the murder. Tae-joo fetches the tape from Soon-yi’s interrogation and notes that while Soon-yi is very forthcoming about killing the village chief, she clams up whenever asked about Young-joo. Similarly, Young-joo won’t say much either but believes her mother is innocent. Tae-joo thinks they’re hiding something, while Na-young thinks they’re protecting each other.

Young-joo’s cries alert them that Soon-yi is being taken away. Tae-joo runs out to stop the transfer and of course clashes with Dong-chul. They’re about to get physical when Na-young screams for them to stop… Young-joo has something to say. Tearfully, the child admits that she gave the chief the makgulli under the direction of her “auntie,” who threatened that if she said anything, she’d never see her mom again.

Needless to say, Soon-yi ends up back in the station. She tells Tae-joo that the chief had hurt Young-joo again and offered them money to apologize. She’d gone to give the money back and found him in the field trying to assault her daughter again. Enraged, she’d attacked him, but he’d struck back, resulting in the wounds on her face.

The chief had chased after Young-joo but collapsed on the shore and died. Believing her daughter had killed the chief, Soon-yi had confessed to the crime while Young-joo had kept quiet to protect her mother. What’s more, Na-young reveals that the “auntie” Young-joo spoke of is the chief’s daughter.

At the village chief’s home, his sister informs them Seon-ja, the chief’s daughter, took her mother back to her house. Unfortunately, it appears no one has been there in some time. There’s a large supply of potassium cyanide in the workshop (presumably for the husband’s business) and inside the house, everything is covered in red repo tags. A pungent stench in the bedroom leads to the discovery of Seon-ja’s husband’s naked corpse in the closet.

When the rest of the team arrives, Yong-ki explains that the business closed after the husband became paralyzed. No one’s seen the husband in a while and assumed he was on vacation with his wife.

Manager Park examines the body and he and Tae-joo deduce that the husband seems to have been poisoned over an extended period of time with bleach. Turns out, Seon-ja’s husband was deep in debt and his business had already been seized. She had inquired about the value of an orchard property owned by her father and a week prior to his death, gotten into an argument with him over it.

Since she isn’t a resident of the village, she had avoided investigation. Additionally, she’s been collecting on her husband’s disability insurance for the past year and has taken out four life insurance policies on him. She’d been slowly feeding him bleach—just enough not to kill him—for some time and he finally died from breathing complications as a result of his paralysis. Seon-ja’s mother currently is exhibiting the same symptoms and is the only thing standing in the way of her inheritance.

Additionally, Na-young found a car insurance document in her home. While there are no cars registered to either Seon-ja or her husband, she did buy a vehicle three months ago and registered it under the name of the agent who sold her the insurance policies.

At the insurance agency, Tae-joo rolls his eyes as Dong-chul drags the agent by the ear into the men’s room. Yong-ki and Nam-shik stand guard while inside, Dong-chul dunks the man’s head into a bucket of water. He suggests the man mooched off Seon-ja but he squeals that he merely accepted the gifts she gave him. He swears he doesn’t know where she is, but tells them she borrowed the car and he’d noticed it was loaded with a lot of water.

Tae-joo and Dong-chul realize she must’ve gone to the abandoned orchard and sure enough, that’s where they find her trying to feed her mother porridge laced with bleach. She’s quickly apprehended, and as the officers load her into the squad car, Yong-ki tsks that she’d been living with the insurance salesman for a while, basically just waiting for her husband to die. He shudders that money is scary and Nam-shik wonders how she could do such a thing to her own parents.

With a sigh, Dong-chul says it’s because she’s human. “Animals don’t kill their flesh and blood like this,” he clarifies, “It’s because she’s human… that her greed can drive her to kill someone.”

At the station the next morning, Tae-joo washes out some cups in the sink and Na-young looks at him like he hung the stars in the sky. He catches her watching and she smiles and says that it looks like he’s getting adjusted. Walking back to his desk, he spots the picture Na-young took of him hanging on the wall under his name.

Behind him, Nam-shik attempts to take the statements of two women arguing over an alleged fraud. One woman snaps that she was sold a faulty product while the other balks that it’s the woman’s face that is faulty. Oddly, Tae-joo recognizes the second woman as his aunt. A brief flashback shows her affectionately wrestling with todder Tae-joo for for a kiss.

In the “present,” his aunt has engaged in hair-pulling with her accuser while Nam-shik fails to intervene and Yong-ki cheers. Only Dong-chul screaming for everyone to shut it calms the chaos. Taking advantage of the lull, Tae-joo addresses his aunt.

We don’t see what is said, but it’s safe to assume he asked for his parent’s address because he shows up outside a hair salon just as his younger self runs past him to go inside. He’s about to open the door when he hears a woman calling his name and steps around the side of the building in time to see his younger self run out. Little Tae-joo stops and stares up at our Tae-joo and there’s a freaky moment where the little boy morphs into an adult Tae-joo, still wearing the baseball uniform, before running off.

Tae-joo chases himself a short distance before the image of the boy running down the street is overlaid with the opening scene where he’s running down the train tracks. We can’t see the face of the man chasing him, but we see the boy run into the tunnel. Then, we watch young Tae-joo crawl up to look through a hole in the wall where a woman is covered in blood, her nails covered in a perfect red manicure. He gasps and turns back as the faceless man leans in. Young Tae-joo screams and then our Tae-joo passes out.

 
COMMENTS

Holy crow! What is even happening with this show? I say that positively, because the mystery is really keeping me on my toes. This week we may have cleared up Doctor Jang’s mystery, but what about the man in the television? Is he Tae-joo’s doctor? And if so, why did he tell Tae-joo to give up? It doesn’t sound like his 2018 body is doing so hot. Will staying here in 1988 too long have a negative effect? And if his body dies in 2018, what happens to Tae-joo in 1988? I don’t think I want to find out…

Tae-joo made some headway in his personal mystery, but what does any of it mean? At the very end we saw he ran into the man who is likely the original Manicure Killer. Was it a brief encounter or did something happen? We know he had a trauma in his youth, enough that his memories have been locked away. How does this tie in with Kim Min-seok in 2018 other than the fact that he was probably mentored by the 1988 killer? When Tae-joo figures out the answer, will he return to 2018 permanently?

The case in this episode was particularly heartbreaking and difficult to watch. It was a good narrative twist for the “victim” to be the true monster, but it’s a sickening reality. Luckily, this episode was sprinkled with some bright spots to combat the dark. Nearly any interaction between Dong-chul and Tae-joo turns into a pissing contest, often with pretty hilarious results. I love that Dong-chul has a way of bringing out a more playful side to the naturally stoic Tae-joo (and it’s even funnier when Dong-chul’s teasing backfires).

The other bright spot, as always, is Na-young. I cannot express how much I adore her character and have since her introduction. She just has such a shining presence and I can’t wait until the rest of the team embraces her as an equal. She deserves the world and I want her to have it. The fact that Tae-joo simply cleaning up a little affected her so much just goes to show how crappy her job was before he showed up. It’s really no wonder she lights up whenever she sees him and I can’t help but wonder about their potential future… or if there even is one. Regardless, be it romantic or not, their relationship is absolutely lovely.

 
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88 June 25, 2018June 25, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 5

by Helcat

Family can mess with your head, but it adds an extra wrinkle when you are a time-traveler and they don’t know even know you are family. The longer that Tae-joo stays in the past, the more of his memories return—but it remains to be seen whether this is actually a good thing. But at least he might have a new friend who won’t be afraid to bust a few heads if everything gets out of hand.

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

Tae-joo sleeps fitfully, punctuated by the ringing telephone that goes unanswered, his recurring nightmare racing through his head. Except this time, more of the scene becomes clear, as young Tae-joo sees a woman in white running through a forest.

Tae-joo’s mother’s voice gently reassures him (almost as if she knows he is having a bad dream), “You’ll definitely wake up, so don’t be scared. I’ll always be by your side.”

Young Tae-joo looks on in horror through a hole in the wall, as the woman in white is beaten… and a man pops up right in front of Tae-joo, startling him. Whatever he sees, Tae-joo stumbles back, screaming.

Adult Tae-joo wakes up with a start, to police chief Dong-chul accusing him of sleeping on the job, and a worried nurse in his head proclaiming that he’s going into shock. It looks like something is seriously wrong with Tae-joo. His head spins, and Dong-chul smells the culprit… carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dong-chul scoops up the weakened Tae-joo and hauls him outside out of danger (but not before Dong-chul bangs Tae-joo’s head accidentally-on-purpose against the door frame a couple times, snerk). Dong-chul and fellow officer Na-young both frantically work to revive Tae-joo—though he prefers Na-young’s gentler methods to the rough slaps Dong-chul doles out.

Fortunately, Tae-joo is fine, as he is taken to the all-purposes doctor, Dr. Park (who tries to wheedle some good food from Dong-chul’s visiting mother-in-law, ha).

Except, Tae-joo isn’t fine, not in 2018. In the present, Tae-joo’s doctor warns him that he is suffering from dangerously high pressure in his brain, and that he may experience decreased consciousness until that has been stabilized.

Tae-joo desperately tries to find the source of the voices, but stumbles back as he opens a door to a room of blinding light. It is only at the sight of two children playing doctor that he is pulled back to 1988.

The brush with danger makes Dong-chul aware that he should know more about his subordinate, and asks whom he would contact in case Tae-joo were to die. Tae-joo answers that he only has his mother, because his father died while he was young from an accident overseas.

Reluctantly, Tae-joo thanks Dong-chul for saving him. Dong-chul takes it as ungraciously as he can, by pretending that there must be something wrong with Tae-joo still, ha.

On a roll, Dong-chul also makes it awkward with Na-young, asking what she was even doing at Tae-joo’s place alone—are they perhaps dating? Na-young quickly protests that she’s here because they couldn’t get in touch with the chief, so she needed to report directly to Tae-joo that there had been a complaint of theft.

Which brings Tae-joo and Dong-chul to Tae-joo’s mother’s salon. Tae-joo remembers fond scenes of himself as a young child in the salon with his mother and father, and then with just his mother. A picture of Tae-joo’s father sits by a mirror, and before he even picks it up, Tae-joo can remember what is written on the back—a letter from his father working overseas with a promise to watch baseball together when the plum trees blossom.

Tae-joo’s mother walks in. This must be very strange for him, because he can’t help but utter a soft, “Mom.” Mom doesn’t hear it though, and takes the pair to Tae-joo’s aunt, who was the one that reported the theft.

Aunt briefly looks embarrassed when Dong-chul recognizes her from the police station when she previously had made a ruckus, but she’s too shaken to be truly affected. Aunt explains that the thief didn’t actually take anything—he snuck into her room in the night and creepily folded up all her clothes, and organized her makeup.

Even though Aunt had taken enough drowsy medicine that she didn’t initially wake up, the creeper had hung around long enough for Aunt to rouse. In shock, Aunt closed her eyes tightly and clutched the blanket, shaking. The intruder moved slowly towards her, a curious look on his face, but as he got closer, Aunt screamed and scared him away.

Disturbed, Aunt takes comfort from Mom, and explains that up until about a month ago, someone was also making strange phone calls to her. They always came as she was getting off work, and they always hung up without saying anything.

After the interview, Dong-chul can’t make sense of a thief who wouldn’t steal anything, and wonders, “What, is he a maid?” Tae-joo just hunts for clues as to how the intruder got in, and finds a broken bottle near the top of the wall, with blood painted on its surface. Dong-chul grins that the intruder should have cleaned up after himself better, since he has left great evidence behind now.

Tae-joo almost makes a misstep as he tells Dong-chul that there is no man living in this house, since the husband is away working in Saudi Arabia. Dong-chul wonders when he learned this, but Tae-joo quickly covers that it was on a postcard in the salon. This means that the intruder probably broke in knowing that only women lived here.

As the two are leaving, Tae-joo’s mom comes out to thank them for their help. The conversation is rife with meaning as Tae-joo tells Mom that he used to live in this neighborhood with his mom and aunt, big hearts in his eyes. Mom seems lovely, as she smiles over the coincidence that detective Tae-joo shares a name with her son, and adds that her Tae-joo is always dreaming of becoming a cop when he grows up.

Back at the station, officers Yong-ki and Nam-shik crow over how good-looking Aunt is, although Tae-joo gets defensive when Yong-ki blusters that if she didn’t like him, he would just make her. Dong-chul defuses the tension by teasing Yong-ki, “It would be a crime if you liked her, because it’s you.”

Talk turns to how they could even prosecute such a weird crime like this one, though Tae-joo doesn’t seem fazed and speculates that if the intruder had planned anything else, he could be charged with even more than just breaking and entering.

Meanwhile, Na-young has been putting in the solid detective work again, and found a similar case from four months ago. Aww, Nam-shik cutely encourages a pleased Na-young with a thumbs up.

Invigorated, Dong-chul orders Yong-ki and Nam-shik to investigate the general perverts and “emasculated” men in the area, and asks Tae-joo to investigate the other woman’s case. Then turning to the hopeful Na-young… he asks her to make him a coffee. Grr.

But Tae-joo won’t accept this, and asks that Na-young accompany him, since she would be helpful to talk to the victim, woman to woman. A bit wary, Dong-chul nevertheless agrees, and Na-young beams from ear to ear.

Tae-joo and Na-young can’t find the other victim, Lee Joo-yong, at her old address, but a group of card-playing ajummas gossip that Joo-yong moved out months ago because of big trouble with the landlady. Apparently, Joo-yong had complained of someone breaking into her room, and the landlady’s son had even been interrogated as a suspect. Afterwards, Joo-yong moved back to live with her mom.

Dong-chul is back to his old tricks at the police station, as he beats a list of suspects out of one of the local perverts (what, are they in a club or something?), although Dong-chul claims that he must have fallen on his face on the way over. I bet the dog ate a lot of your homework as well, Dong-chul, didn’t it?

It sounds like this might be a dead end though, because the pervert can’t understand why the intruder would only watch the women, and not act on it. He points out, “I think he really must be a lunatic.” Dong-chul evidently agrees, though he adds, “Would you call yourself normal then, you panty-wearing pervert?”

The interrogation is halted at the news that Yong-ki has brought in a suspect—a young man caught peeping outside a girls’ high school. The suspect pleads his right not to talk, but Tae-joo orders Nam-shik to apply for a warrant for his blood to test whether he is a match to the blood at the crime scene. Dong-chul has other ideas, as he brutally but efficiently slams the suspect’s head to the desk and wipes his resulting bloody nose with a handkerchief.

While Dong-chul and Yong-ki pig out over lunch, Tae-joo refuses to eat with them, something which Dong-chul has already picked up on. Tae-joo momentarily has a dizzy spell as the nurse from the present time calls out for an injection to stabilize his brain pressure. Dong-chul scoffs that Tae-joo sure is weak for someone his age, and that if he ate properly this wouldn’t happen.

It’s bad news about the suspect though—he has the wrong blood type to be the intruder.

Na-young comes through again, as she discovers that the victim Joo-yong is still living with her mother. When Dong-chul, Tae-joo, and Na-young arrive at the house though, Joo-yong won’t come out without gentle cajoling from her mother, and sits terrified as all three police officers pile into her barren room.

A nod from Dong-chul prompts Na-young to compassionately ask Joo-yong to help them find her intruder. Clearly traumatized, Joo-yong describes the same pattern that happened with Aunt—it started with creepy phone calls, and folded clothes, but escalated to the intruder lying in wait at night.

Joo-yong awoke on one of these occasions, to the intruder slowly sliding the blanket off her body, but explains that she never saw his face because, “I was afraid that if he knew I was awake he would kill me, so I kept my eyes shut.”

But that didn’t stop the intruder from getting physical, provoked by a ring on Joo-yong’s finger that he claimed wasn’t hers. Retelling the story, Joo-yong clutches desperately at her throat as she remembers the feeling of being strangled and held down by the intruder.

As the rest of the team is briefed, Tae-joo is adamant that this goes beyond mere breaking and entering into stalking. This goes down with varying degrees of success, as Dong-chul is baffled and Yong-ki even claims that watching or following a woman you like is a normal aspect of courtship.

Nam-shik tentatively pushes back on this, and Na-young’s face betrays what she thinks of Yong-ki’s assessment. It is Tae-joo that redirects the conversation back to figuring out how to find a link between Aunt and Joo-yong.

Which leads to a heaving police station, as every man known in connection to either Aunt or Joo-yong is interviewed to determine a link. When the search proves fruitless, Yong-ki whines that they should just give this case up since no one was hurt (but what about Joo-yong?).

To his credit, Dong-chul doesn’t countenance this, and directs the team to think of a link between the two women since they can’t find one in the men they both knew. Although poor Nam-shik takes a stab at it (double eyelids, oh Nam-shik), it is Na-young who astutely points out that the two women were sick when the attacks occurred.

The team has a breakthrough as they realize that the two women shouldn’t have been knocked unconscious by their medicines—the stalker must have chosen this time deliberately. The team suspects someone working at the pharmacy.

Dr. Park informs Dong-chul and Tae-joo that ground medicine is an outdated method, so Tae-joo speculates that it must have been done to disguise the sleeping pills mixed in. Dr. Park can’t confirm this, so they will need to wait for a forensics team to analyze.

Never seeing a corner he couldn’t cut, Dong-chul beckons over unsuspecting Nam-shik and pours the lot down his throat… and not five minutes later, guinea pig Nam-shik is out for the count. Dr. Park notes that it must have been a very heavy dose to work this fast.

It turns out that the pharmacy Aunt frequented is in the same neighborhood where Joo-yong used to live. As if that wasn’t enough to convince Dong-chul, the creepy pharmacist, Park Yong-gun, has an injured hand (evidently from climbing over Aunt’s wall), which clinches it for him—although Tae-joo stops him just before he takes a swing at the man.

Leading Dong-chul outside (with a wrist grab, hee), Tae-joo cautions that it will be difficult to convict Yong-gun if he suspects that he has been discovered and destroys the evidence. Which means one thing…

It’s stakeout time! Dong-chul and Tae-joo follow Yong-gun just in time to rescue his bloodied bandage from being burned up. As Dong-chul says, “Bingo.”

The rest of the team have been hard at work as well. Yong-ki discovered that Yong-gun had an asthmatic wife who died last year, and Na-young informs them that Yong-gun has been submitting stories of his wife to a local radio program, even after her death. The most recent reads, “The sound of her breathing keeps me alive. I hope she’ll always be there to breathe next to me.”

Tae-joo sighs that Yong-gun must believe his wife is still alive, and Na-young correctly guesses that his parents died of illness when Yong-gun was a young child. This guilt made his delusions worse, and Na-young theorizes that Yong-gun must have turned violent with Joo-yong when he realized he was suffering from delusions.

Although this means that the team doesn’t know when Yong-gun might flip on Aunt in the same way, Tae-joo hesitates to arrest him right away. Without proof of Joo-yong’s attack, Yong-gun would most likely be let out on probation. Dong-chul concurs that it would be best to catch him in the act.

That’s how the team ends up trying to persuade a reluctant Aunt that she should act as bait, while the police officers follow Yong-gun.

Aunt doesn’t look too happy with this plan, and she looks even less happy at the prospect of being protected by either Yong-ki or Dong-chul. Yong-ki delights in rubbing it in that Dong-chul was rejected, while Dong-chul futilely protests that he didwin the 1966 Olympics silver medal in boxing.

Welp, in the end, Na-young is the one chosen to stay with Aunt and protect her. Na-young looks giddy at the opportunity, while Dong-chul grumps that she shouldn’t bother with any unnecessary moves like last time, and just call them when things get dangerous.

Yong-ki tries to patronize Na-young for acting like a “real cop.” My heart just melted a bit as Tae-joo counters that Na-young is a real cop and adds in a mutter, “And she’s better than a certain someone else.”

Just as expected, Yong-gun rings Aunt later that night, but just as he is leaving (presumably for Aunt’s house), Tae-joo is hit at the worst time with a splitting pain in his head. In the present time, his doctor orders Tae-joo to be put further in a coma, because his cranial pressure is building to dangerous levels. Tae-joo faints.

From the present time, Tae-joo’s mother’s pleas sound in his head, “Wake up, Tae-joo. You can’t leave us like this.”

With a snap, Tae-joo in 1988 awakens. At breakneck speed he runs straight for Aunt’s house. Instincts kicking in, Dong-chul joins Tae-joo at a dead run, needing only to be told that Tae-joo lost sight of Yong-gun to understand the gravity of the situation.

When they arrive, Aunt is distraught and there is no sign of either Yong-gun, who ran off, or Na-young, who chased after him. Tae-joo and Dong-chul race off, following the blare of Na-young’s police whistle.

Na-young corners Yong-gun, and the two tussle together. Unhinged, Yong-gun manages to gain the upper hand, and climbs on top of Na-young to grip her by the throat.

Before Yong-gun can do any real damage, Dong-chul comes flying in feet first to knock Yong-gun away and to the ground.

Once Yong-gun is subdued, Dong-chul immediately comes to fuss over Na-young for putting herself in harm’s way. Though he does reprimand Na-young for going after Yong-gun alone as a woman, there is no heat to his words, only concern.

Tae-joo meanwhile, believes Na-young when she says she’s fine, and then congratulates her on a job well done. The praise comes as a pleasant surprise to Na-young.

All that is left to do is book Yong-gun, a task normally reserved for the men on the team. When Na-young prepares to leave though, Dong-chul surprises her by asking her to write the report—he says that she was the one who caught Yong-gun after all. From the look on Na-young’s face, this is clearly a great honor.

Despite being soft-spoken, Na-young is direct with Yong-gun about the harm that he caused to the two women he stalked, and that he’s definitely a criminal.

After work, Na-young accompanies Tae-joo to his apartment to show him how to operate his coal briquette heater, but it turns into a sweet mutual appreciation of each other instead. When Na-young tries to thank Tae-joo for helping her, Tae-joo lightly corrects her, “You are just doing what you’re capable of doing, Officer Yoon.”

I swear, Dong-chul must have some kind of special power for ruining moments, because he chooses just then to come in through Tae-joo’s open door. Dong-chul scares Na-young away by insinuating that something suspicious is happening, and playfully teases Tae-joo for chasing after the pretty young officer.

But Dong-chul is here for a lovely reason too—he has come to drop off some of his mother-in-law’s (famously) good cooking. Before he heads out the door, Dong-chul even tries to cover his thoughtfulness up with bluster, “It would be inconvenient for me if you die. So don’t die, okay?” Aww, Dong-chul likes Tae-joo.

Tae-joo looks touched as he unwraps the food, and even though he’s eating alone, he doesn’t look lonely at all.

Unused to social niceties (or having friends), Tae-joo paces in front of Dong-chul’s door the next day trying to find a way to say thank you. Understanding why, Dong-chul good-naturedly tells Tae-joo to stop haunting his doorway, but smirks as he does.

Aunt doesn’t seem right back to her old self, as she comes into the station to give the officers beauty samples as a way to thank them. Unfortunately, Aunt has taken a liking to handsome Tae-joo, and personally shows him how to rub in hand cream—much to Tae-joo’s discomfort, and Yong-ki’s wrath.

Disgruntled, Yong-ki examines his own rough hands and mutters to Aunt on his way past, “What do soft hands matter? Soft hearts are more important.” Lol.

But there’s no rest for the wicked, so there’s no rest for our team either, as they make their way to try and apprehend members of the “Lottery Gang” at a local brothel. Unfortunately, the gang is meticulous at planning, and by the time the police have arrived, they have all scampered. Disappointed, Dong-chul explains to Tae-joo that the Lottery Gang is an elusive scam artist group.

The police work on evacuating the rest of the building for interviews, but one customer proves tricky and refuses to exit the bathroom stall he ran into. Dong-chul picks up a nearby hose and sprays it over the top of the door, and out rushes an embarrassed female worker… and Tae-joo’s father. Uh-oh.

Tae-joo’s memory of his father as a fun-loving, warm dad clashes with the picture of the cheap, grinning man in front of him. A lone tear trickles down Tae-joo’s cheek.

 
COMMENTS

You guys, I am really impressed with this Life on Mars. I had reservations going in that this would be disappointing compared to the BBC drama, because the original gave us not just a wonderful story, it also lived on the strength of its characters. Well, the Korean version is officially nailing it. The characters are similar in broad strokes only (not that I would want them to be an exact match) and everyone is bringing something different, and compelling, to this show. I’m interested in every member of Team Trouble (yes, even Yong-ki) because they are not cardboard-thin constructions.

The central trio is obviously where it’s at though, and I especially love that Dong-chul is meddling in Tae-joo and Na-young’s romance. He’s such a little shipper. Which I welcome, because I think it might speed along the relationship. There is such a natural attraction between Tae-joo and Na-young, an easy camaraderie spiked with romantic connection, that I hope it would happen anyway. But Tae-joo is extremely closed off, and I fully expect the reason he and ex-fiancee Seo-hyun paired up was because she pursued the relationship—Na-young is too timid (right now) to make the necessary first move. But Dong-chul is right there behind Tae-joo, pushing him out of his comfort zone. Dong-chul is good for Tae-joo in more ways than one, as well. I’m getting warm fuzzies from their growing kinship, even though they are such an unlikely duo. You can see the respect Dong-chul is gaining for Tae-joo—like when he turns to Tae-joo to lead the direction on prosecuting Yong-gu—and in turn, Tae-joo is gaining what might be his first ever friend (wouldn’t surprise me).

I have been consistently pleased with the cases in each episode, and this one was no exception. Rather than serving a cookie-cutter police procedural, Life on Mars is taking the opportunity to examine difficult problems in a thoughtful way. The crew of 1988 (apart from Na-young) doesn’t initially understand that Yong-gun is committing criminal acts by stalking women, and it takes Tae-joo pushing for prosecution for the rest of the team to take it seriously. Aunt would have been dismissed out of hand otherwise. Through to the very end, Yong-ki stands in for the voice that doesn’t understand that not all attention is flattering, and can be downright dangerous when there are no boundaries. Although Yong-gun was an appropriately creepy presence throughout the episode, he was also depicted as an upstanding member of the community and not one of the usual “Pervert Parade.” In a touch of realism as well, Joo-yong’s story isn’t continued, and she probably doesn’t recover from the incident in the same way that Aunt visibly did.

What is worrying though is what’s happening in 2018. The situation is growing ever more serious, and I worry that Tae-joo is in real trouble from brain death in the present timeline. I really didn’t like it when the doctor warned Tae-joo that he would need to go deeper into a coma—does this mean it’s going to be harder for Tae-joo to get out of 1988, or does it mean he might stop existing in 1988 entirely? Where would he go instead? There was also that shining white door that Tae-joo opened, which can’t be a good thing. 2018 keeps creeping in to 1988, never letting us forget that Tae-joo is in danger and time is running out—which from my perspective, is starting to feel like the only incentive for Tae-joo to return. Despite the culture clash from his modern sensibilities, Tae-joo is connecting with people in a way he doesn’t in the present. If 1988 is a fantasy, it’s a very clever one, filled with real and flawed people to make it a lived-in world, but one in which Tae-joo has the power to change people the way he wanted to in the present. Will Tae-joo even want to go back to 2018 if he has the choice?

Mystery of the episode:Who was that in Tae-joo’s nightmare at the beginning? Will solving this mystery help Tae-joo return to 2018?

 
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110 June 27, 2018August 8, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 6

by Sunny

More family hijinx are in store for Tae-joo as we take a turn for the sentimental this hour. Tae-joo is finally face to face with the man he seems to have been trying to forget. Ever since falling into 1988, Tae-joo’s been forced to face his fractured past but the more he remembers, the more his world is turned upside-down.

 
EPISODE 6 RECAP

While attempting to bust the notorious “Lottery Gang,” our time-traveling detective Tae-joo and company stumble across Tae-joo’s father instead. The shock sends Tae-joo reeling and he flashes back to a happy memory of Dad bringing him the game ball before shifting to him sobbing in his mother’s embrace. Mom assures Young Tae-joo that Dad had to leave without warning, but that he loves him and will return soon. However, judging from the dark tones and what appears to be a mourning ribbon in her hair, it seems unlikely.

Upon returning to the station, fellow officer Na-young greets the team but Tae-joo is too freaked out to respond. Dad tries to negotiate a trip to the bathroom but officer Yong-ki snaps that if it’s urgent, he can go where he stands. Tae-joo steps in and unlocks Dad’s cuffs, much to Yong-ki’s annoyance.

Yong-ki grows antsy while waiting for Dad to finish his business. Ignoring Tae-joo’s insistence that Dad will be out soon, Yong-ki bursts in to find Dad tying the door shut with his pants. Dad panics and scrambles out the window and the detectives give chase. They follow him out into the parking lot, where their captain Dong-chul manages to apprehend Dad by opening his car door just in time to send the escapee flying over it.

In the interrogation room, Na-young treats Dad’s wounds and as thanks, he shows her some cheesy magic tricks with his pen. Dong-chul reprimands him for fooling around instead of writing up his statement, while Tae-joo watches with an uncertain expression. Dad swears he knows nothing of the Lottery Gang and merely works at the brothel.

He admits that he’s supposed to be working in Saudi Arabia, but after his travel money was stolen, he was too embarrassed to return home empty-handed. At the mention of his son, Dad brightens and proudly produces a picture of Young Tae-joo. Dong-chul chuckles that the boy is much cuter than some other Tae-joo he knows, but muses that they look similar.

Dad is thrilled to learn that the young detective shares his son’s name and wonders if they’re somehow related. Fortunately, Dong-chul smacks Dad in the head with his clipboard before Tae-joo is forced to fabricate a response. Dad grins sheepishly and returns to writing his statement.

When Dad has finished, Dong-chul agrees to release him on the condition that officer Nam-shik accompanies him home and confirms his address. Tae-joo volunteers to go instead and Dad asks to make a quick detour. They stop off at the bathhouse so Dad can clean up before facing his family. Tae-joo stares distractedly at his father until Dad catches him and offers to scrub his back. Despite Tae-joo’s protestation, Dad insists and it brings forth Tae-joo’s memories of visiting the bathhouse together in his childhood.

Afterwards, Dad takes Tae-joo to the Hawaii Room Salon—where he’s been staying since he was robbed. Dad notices Tae-joo’s uncomfortable expression as he looks around the closet-sized space. Laughing self-consciously, Dad admits that he had nowhere else to go and this was all he could afford.

Unwilling to go home empty-handed, Dad shuffles to the kitchen and fills his pockets with candy for his son. He then starts piling the fruit set out for customers into a basket. Tae-joo asks what he plans to do with it and when Dad replies that it’s for his family, Tae-joo snatches it away. Instead, he takes Dad to buy a nicer fruit basket with fresh fruits. Aww.

Dad leads Tae-joo to the beauty salon where Tae-joo already knows his mother lives and works. Taking one of the candies from his pocket, Dad offers it to Tae-joo as thanks before scurrying happily to the shop door. Peeking inside, Dad is met with a fiery glare and Tae-joo’s aunt bursts outside to grab him by the ears.

She drags Dad inside and Tae-joo follows the sound of their bickering all the way to the kitchen. Aunt is furious that Dad sold the house to pay for his trip to Saudi Arabia. Dad argues that he was trying to make money, but Aunt points out that he came back broke.

It’s all Dad can do to defuse the situation by diverting her attention to Tae-joo. Aunt’s demeanor takes a 180 degree turn and she smiles coyly. Her tone softens as she greets him and Dad is stunned that they know each other. This revelation is interrupted by the arrival of Mom and Young Tae-joo.

Dad immediately scoops up his son and they giggle together before Dad turns to Mom. He bashfully apologizes for giving his wife a hard time. Mom only notes that Dad looks weary and they hold hands until Mom notices Tae-joo standing awkwardly in the doorway.

Dad deems their connection fated and despite Tae-joo’s objections, the family insists he stay for dinner. As they gather around the table, Tae-joo soaks up the warmth he’s surely missed in his 2018 life, watching as his family dotes so lovingly on his younger self.

The peaceful moment is interrupted when the women ask why detective Tae-joo is with Dad. Tae-joo doesn’t argue when his father sputters out a lie that he’s helping the police with a “secret investigation.” Although not entirely convinced, Mom does look relieved. Meanwhile, Aunt continues to flirt with Adult Tae-joo, much to his discomfort.

After dinner, Tae-joo watches his mother washing Dad’s clothes. She smiles, discovering the pocketful of candy, before wincing. Holding her wrist, Mom attempts to ease the pain by applying a hot rag, but Tae-joo steps out and exchanges it for a cold cloth.

He tells her a cold pack is more effective and urges her to visit the hospital if the pain persists for more than a week. At Mom’s quizzical expression, Tae-joo continues that peritenonitus lasts longer than she’d think and admits that his mother was also a hairdresser who suffered the same affliction.

He says his mother had to quit working when he was in middle school and suggests that Mom go to the hospital before it worsens. She promises to do so and Tae-joo gets up to leave. Mom stops him to ask if Dad really didn’t cause trouble and Tae-joo assures her that’s not the case. She wonders how they’ll ever repay Tae-joo for everything he’s done, and while Tae-joo says there’s no need, she insists he stop by for a haircut.

Outside, someone calls out to him and Tae-joo turns to find his younger self staring up at him. He takes the boy to the corner store for banana milk and Young Tae-joo marvels at their shared name. He asks if the detective carries a gun and is disappointed when Tae-joo says no, but happily settles for playing with his handcuffs.

Young Tae-joo says the detective is cool, but his dad is cooler. Pulling a candy from his pocket, the boy hands it to our Tae-joo and says it was a present from his dad, but he’ll share just one with the detective. Slipping his wrist through one cuff, Young Tae-joo hands the other to our detective and they playfully tug back and forth. It’s surreal but so cute.

Later that night, Na-young arrives at the bar to find Tae-joo sitting alone with a few already empty bottles at his table. Walking over, Na-young asks if Tae-joo escorted his “father” home safely. He looks up, surprised, until Na-young explains she was joking since Dad’s son had the same name.

Tae-joo says Dad got home fine and Na-young cheerfully bounces into the seat opposite him. She asks about the candy piece sitting on the table and a secret smile spreads across his face as he tells her it’s a gift from his father.

Tae-joo continues that when he was young, his father would bring him something in his suit pocket whenever he went out. “I always looked forward to what my father’s pocket may have inside,” Tae-joo says, “And I put my hand in his pocket… and this is what came out of there today.”

His expression sobers as he pours himself another drink. Tae-joo confesses that he used to consider his father his everything, and thought he knew everything about his father. “But that wasn’t true at all,” Tae-joo finishes.

Na-young listens quietly and then asks if Tae-joo has ever seen his father’s back. She explains that fathers always want to appear cool and confident in their children’s eyes. It wasn’t until she grew up that she found out that her father had also been hiding a weaker side that was suffering.

Tae-joo thinks over her words and asks if she’s going home. Na-young sighs that she has more paperwork to do and asks Tae-joo to pour her a drink. He complies and on the other side of the bar, the barman cheekily plays some romantic music. Hee.

The next morning, Tae-joo grabs breakfast from the corner store and settles into the passenger seat of Dong-chul’s car. Suddenly the radio goes wild and a woman’s voice urgently informs him that his brain activity is dropping. Tae-joo tries to respond but she just pleads with him not to give up.

Tae-joo demands to know who’s talking and the radio crackles before Na-young responds. She tells him a body has been found and Dong-chul—who must’ve been sleeping in the driver’s seat—springs forward and snatches the radio. He cranks the engine and Tae-joo sighs that they’re on a one-way street. Undeterred, Dong-chul speeds backwards. Ignoring Tae-joo’s resigned remark that he’s committing a traffic violation, Dong-chul merely flips around using a side street and continues driving the wrong way down the one-way street.

At the crime scene, the detectives wonder if the man got drunk and froze to death. Finding a busted watch under the body, Tae-joo says that’s unlikely as it would take an hour minimum to freeze to death but it seems the man died in under fifty minutes. Yong-ki scoffs at Tae-joo’s deduction and snidely calls him “Detective Columbo.”

Dong-chul rifles through the dead man’s wallet and questions why the man was found so far from his own neighborhood. He tells Yong-ki to check it out, but when he goes to hand over the ID, both men stop and look warily at Tae-joo. Yong-ki carefully grabs the card using the tail of his shirt and slips it into his pocket.

Next, Dong-chul finds a slip of paper with a phone number scrawled across it. He assigns it to Nam-shik, but when the young detective moves to take it, Dong-chul again shoots a pointed look at Tae-joo. He tentatively asks if it’s okay to handle normally, and Tae-joo nods. How cute, they’re trying to preserve fingerprints!

Finally, Dong-chul pulls two Opening Day baseball tickets from the wallet. Yong-ki nearly swipes them but Dong-chul sends him and Nam-shik on their way… before trying to slip them into his own pocket. Tae-joo catches him and Dong-chul laughs it off, passing the tickets to another officer for safekeeping.

They meet up with a sneezy Manager Park at the clinic, where he informs them that the victim died from a heart attack. He confirms that the man was a heavy drinker, but it wasn’t alcohol that killed him—rather, a rusty pipe to the ribs triggered his heart failure.

Back at the station, Nam-shik reports that there was no answer when he called the number. Yong-ki has discovered that the victim had lived with his wife and child before his divorce the previous year. Now, he lives alone and his only relative—a distant one—avoided him due to his bad drinking habits. His drinking, along with his criminal record (seven property damage charges and three violent assaults), destroyed his marriage.

Na-young reveals that the victim’s ex-wife lives with her child and new husband just twenty minutes from the crime scene. Dong-chul tells Yong-ki to pay her a visit but he suggests Na-young is better qualified. While she’s clearly a great officer, Yong-ki’s words hold no sincerity. Tae-joo offers to go with her and as soon as they leave, Dong-chul reprimands the other two detectives for being lazy. He’s not amused and threatens them not to do it again before shuffling back to his desk.

The ex-wife bitterly tells Na-young and Tae-joo she’s already heard about the victim’s demise through the neighborhood gossip network. She cries that he should’ve died somewhere else and worries about rumors. Na-young calmly starts her questioning while Tae-joo steps outside to speak to the victim’s son.

The boy asks if his father has done something bad again. Tae-joo gently assures him that’s not why they came. Innocently, the boy asks why did they come. Tae-joo opens his mouth but the boy’s mother calls him home and he runs off. Na-young joins Tae-joo and they hear the mother screeching at her son to stop crying since his father never did anything for them. Na-young explains that this is why the other detectives didn’t want to come.

At the station, Na-young calls about the tickets found in the victim’s wallet. She’s puzzled to learn those tickets aren’t even for sale yet. Tae-joo questions how the victim obtained them and Dong-chul shoots him a cheeky grin.

A young man scurries around selling tickets to people on the street. He’s startled when Dong-chul calls out to him and bolts. Yong-ki and Nam-shik block his path so he turns only to be blocked by Tae-joo. The scalper growls at him to move but Tae-joo deadpans that he’s a detective, too. Heh.

Having relocated to a bathroom, they’ve stripped the scalper down to his skivvies. Yong-ki rifles through his clothes and asks if that’s all the tickets. The young man says yes, but Dong-chul manages to ferret two more out of his underwear. He hands the tickets to a reluctant Nam-shik while Tae-joo confirms that none of the tickets are for Opening Day.

The young man cries that he’s never even seen those tickets since someone bought them all up. He explains that scalpers typically buy 50 tickets right before they’re released to be sold to the public. However, this time a group of guys bought 3000 for an exorbitant 50 million won (or roughly 50 thousand dollars).

Tae-joo flashes a photo of the victim and the scalper confirms he was one of those guys. Tae-joo asks how they obtained the tickets. The scalper reveals that there’s a government employee who manages the company and will happily take bribes. Dong-chul tells him to set up a meeting.

Tae-joo stumbles across the victim’s son crying at the spot where his father was discovered and offers to walk him home. The boy tells Tae-joo his mother called his father’s death “punishment” for his crimes. Tae-joo attempts to comfort him, but the boy asserts that his father lied when he promised not to do any more bad things.

They arrive at the boy’s house and Tae-joo offers the boy the watch he’d found on the body. Curiously, the boy denies it, saying his father never wore a watch. Tae-joo reports back to Dong-chul and they figure that the watch must belong to the assailant.

That night they arrive at a nightclub for their meeting with the ticket supplier. A waiter leads Dong-chul and Tae-joo back to the private room area where the scalper is waiting. He asks which detective will be going with him and Tae-joo holds Dong-chul back. He correctly guesses that Dong-chul will immediately try to roughhouse and argues that they should tread carefully with a civil servant.

Dong-chul agrees to let him try the “gentlemanly approach” first. The scalper adds that the supplier expects a woman to join them and Dong-chul assures him he’s already called someone. Tae-joo follows the scalper into the room and meets the supplier, Chief Oh. They exchange pleasantries but when Tae-joo asks for 1000 tickets, Chief Oh balks. Sensing something is off, he tries to leave but stops when Na-young walks in.

Tae-joo’s expression is impassive until he steps out in the hall and demands that Dong-chul tell him why Na-young is here. Dong-chul whines that the alcohol is already expensive and he didn’t have enough money for a call girl as well. Besides, Na-young volunteered!

Suddenly, Na-young screams and they rush back inside just as Chief Oh slaps Na-young across the face. For once, it’s Dong-chul holding Tae-joo back. Their interference is unnecessary though, as Na-young judo-flips Chief Oh onto the table. The detectives yell when she winds up to punch Chief Oh… but she does it anyway. Hee.

Chief Oh has an identical watch to the one found by the victim and admits that it came from a mutual acquaintance, Kim Eung-shik. He swears ignorance of the victim’s death but reveals he’d witnessed him arguing with Kim Eung-shik about wanting to quit. Dong-chul lets Na-young handcuff Chief Oh and they leave.

Outside, Yong-ki catcalls Na-young and Tae-joo offers her his jacket to cover her ripped skirt. Walking over to the others, Tae-joo calls Yong-ki out on his sexual harassment. Yong-ki scoffs that he doesn’t like Na-young that way—as if that excuses his comments. Tae-joo is about to say more but Nam-shik arrives to report that the number in the victim’s wallet was for a deep-sea fishing company where he was to start working in a week.

Tae-joo pays a final visit to the victim’s son and gives him the Opening Day tickets. The boy cries, realizing his father had been on his way to deliver them the night he died. Tae-joo tells him that his father was trying to keep his promise (about not doing bad things) and repeats Na-young’s words that fathers want to only show their best sides to their children.

The next day is Opening Day and the men at the station are betting on the winner. Everyone is geared up for Haitai when Dong-chul steps up and points out that Haitai had a bad run last year. The men instantly flip to cheering for Samsung until Tae-joo silences them by announcing Haitai will win—even listing which players will make the winning home runs. Dong-chul balks that they’d be lucky to hit anything but leaves before completing his bet.

Na-young returns Tae-joo’s jacket, pointing out that she’d washed it after noticing a stain. He worries that she did extra work but she beams that it was no problem.

They get the call that the tickets are now on sale so they go down to the stadium to wait for Kim Eung-shik. Tae-joo’s mouth quirks into a small smile when he sees the victim’s son among the crowd and Chief Oh—who they’d cuffed in the backseat—draws their attention to a passing van. He identifies the passenger as Kim Eung-shik.

Unfortunately, Kim Eung-shik catches wind of the detectives and bolts. While the team manages to nab his cohorts, Eung-shik escapes on a bicycle. He’s no match for Dong-chul’s car, however. He’s already wheezy when Dong-chul pulls up alongside and the detective cheerfully mocks him as Tae-joo shouts that he’s under arrest. Eung-shik responds by spitting at Dong-chul. Incensed, Dong-chul hocks a loogie right back and a spit fight ensues that is equal parts hilarious… and gross.

Finally, Dong-chul is fed up and bumps Eung-shik off the road with his car. They arrest the killer and by the time they get back to the team, the game results are out: Haitai won. What’s more, it happened exactly as Tae-joo had “predicted.” Staring at Tae-joo in awe, Nam-shik wonders if inhaling briquette gas made him psychic.

The other detectives giggle that Dong-chul lost the bet, but Dong-chul corrects them that he’d placed his money on Haitai. He says that sometimes Tae-joo is right… he just doesn’t like to admit it. Ha!

As the team rounds up criminals in squad cars, Tae-joo finds two tickets in his pocket and asks Na-young about them. She cutely replies that it’s just her gratitude for all he’s done. Tae-joo awkwardly thanks her but says he doesn’t have anyone to go with. He tries to return them and Na-young blurts out, “Then do you want to go with me?”

Tae-joo is taken aback and Na-young quickly adds that she doesn’t have anyone to go with either, but she’d received them for free (as thanks from the scalper for standing up against Chief Oh). Furthermore, the tickets are supposed to be difficult to get so it’d be a shame for them to go to waste…

Tae-joo can’t think of a response before Na-young is called away to arrest more people. As he stares after her, Tae-joo hears someone call his name. Turning, he sees Dad running after the crowd with Young Tae-joo on his hip. Dad is trying to get the ball he’d caught autographed but the team piles onto the bus before he gets the chance. Setting his son down, Dad chases the bus until both disappear around the corner.

The crowd watches with bated breath until Dad comes back into view. His head hangs dejectedly and little Tae-joo’s eyes well up with tears of disappointment. Then Dad holds up his hand, proudly brandishing the signed baseball. It’s a scene Tae-joo has replayed often in his memories as Dad races forward and scoops up his son.

Tae-joo looks on with teary eyes but snaps out of it when Young Tae-joo drops the ball and it rolls to the detective’s feet. He bends down to pick it up, but the second he touches it, he flashes back to the tunnel where he’d seen that woman being murdered through a hole in the wall as a child. As he looks back up at his father, the blurry face that had jumped out at him in the memory finally comes into focus… Dad, splattered in blood.

 
COMMENTS

What?! It’s amazing how this show consistently leaves off on such great cliffhangers. Helcat and I had discussed the blurry face after the last episode and while we’d both thought it kinda looked like Dad (if you paused perfectly and squinted just right), I was sure we had to be wrong. This is definitely the kind of trauma that would result in Tae-joo’s brain locking away his childhood memories, but surely not all is as it seems? While Dad being a crazed serial killer is certainly an interesting twist, it feels too early to expose what I suspect is 2018 serial killer Kim Min-seok’s mentor, right?

So that leads to the question: What is Dad doing there, covered in blood? Maybe it’s just wishful thinking because Dad was very endearing this episode. He’s your typical lovable screw-up… but that could just be his (very crafty) cover. Looking closely, it did seem like Dad struck that woman but his expression when he looked through the hole was so dazed… hmmmm. What do y’all think? Because I just don’t know!

On a less mind-crushing note, how cute is Na-young? I don’t think I’ll ever stop singing her praises. She has such a sugar-sweet character that could’ve so easily rang dull and yet she’s just so darn endearing. Throw in her badass judo skills and it’s a wonder Tae-joo isn’t just as in love with her as she is with him. Na-young’s budding relationship with Tae-joo is such a treat and I am so proud of her for taking that first leap, because as Helcat pointed out, it’s really not Tae-joo’s forte. Luckily, this couple has supporters who aren’t afraid of a little meddling.

I love everything about this show (with the exception of Yong-ki, who—while I can appreciate him as a character—is just an ass) and it makes me that much more anxious for the episodes to come. Tae-joo’s mystery is a conundrum and no matter how many theories I craft, none of them produces a full picture. More than anything, I’m nervous that once Tae-joo completes the puzzle, he’ll have to return to 2018. Because while that is his “correct” timeline, I’ve grown so attached to 1988, I don’t want to leave!

 
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60 July 2, 2018July 2, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 7

by Helcat

The mystery is largely laid aside this episode, as Tae-joo and the team must have a laser-focus on one big problem. This time, there’s no murder to solve, and no puzzle to piece together—the team has a chance to stop a crime before it unfolds. But as the story plays out in front of the watching world and warring motivations meet, will they be able to avert disaster?

 
EPISODE 7 RECAP

That night, the team heads out out to celebrate, jubilant over taking down the notorious Lottery Gang. Despite the cheery mood, Tae-joo is stuck remembering the horror that his father may be a serial killer, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Dong-chul who advises him, “If nothing is wrong, you should drink. If something is wrong, you should drink too!”

This does seem to comfort Tae-joo, and although he doesn’t get as merry as the rest of the team (who get very merry indeed), he does stay to the end. Tae-joo sweetly sends Na-young off in a taxi, with only a brief moment of awkward awareness as Yong-ki gleefully calls attention to an amorous couple silhouetted in a nearby window.

Trains clamor and as it transpires the scene is not what it seems… but reveals a woman being viciously murdered and decorated, a la the Manicure Murderer.

The next morning, Tae-joo awakens to the telephone, with his mother’s voice from the present time speaking down the line. Brokenly, his mother explains that the doctor has told her she needs to make a decision, because it looks like Tae-joo’s brain has suffered too much damage. She has been advised to turn off the ventilator which is keeping Tae-joo alive.

Frenzied, Tae-joo yells down the line that he’s here, he can hear her—but she can’t hear him. She tells Tae-joo that she doesn’t know what to do, but the machine will be turned off at two o’clock today.

At the station, Na-young runs in to a flurry of activity and informs Tae-joo that there has been a report of a hostage situation—and the hostage-takers are threatening to kill one of the family members by two o’clock. The parallel is too striking for Tae-joo not to notice. It’s eleven o’clock now, so there’s only three hours before their—and his—fate is decided.

There is mayhem at the scene, as reporters and onlookers alike crowd in the narrow alley to be near the action. Na-young informs Tae-joo that a family of three lives in the house, but the husband is away on business, so only the mother and daughter have been held hostage. The three hostage-takers are still being identified.

Looking the worse for wear after the fun night out, Dong-chul fights his way through the crowd. The hostage-takers are asking for a truck and ship to secure their getaway, and also a doctor (so someone inside may already be injured) by two o’clock or one of the victims will be killed. More irked than scared, Dong-chul orders the hostage-takers out of the house, berating them for causing trouble in his neighborhood.

In disbelief at the cavalier attitude, Tae-joo stops Dong-chul before he makes the situation worse, and orders him to go home and get sober. Although Dong-chul protests, Tae-joo merely points to Dong-chul’s mismatched shoes as proof—one trainer, one woman’s slipper. Unfazed, Dong-chul swaps shoes with a pissy Yong-ki.

Suddenly, one of the hostage-takers throws open a window and demands to know where the truck is. The team can’t get a good look from their vantage point (not even on tiptoes), so Dong-chul rashly bounds closer and peers over the wall to ask the hostages be let free first. The hostage-taker refuses, and heads off Dong-chul’s pleas—with a warning gunshot to a nearby claypot.

Dong-chul and Yong-ki agree they should go get their guns in a show of force against the hostage-takers. Tae-joo strongly disagrees, insisting that this escalation will end in war, but Dong-chul can’t see the point of continuing the conversation when they won’t listen.

Instead, Tae-joo tries to find some other way to persuade Dong-chul, and takes him to a roof for a better view of the house. Unfortunately, the hostage-takers have already thought of this, and chose a place where no one could see inside. Tae-joo warns that they should figure out who the hostage-takers are first, but Dong-chul once again disagrees, and thinks they should invade the house through one of the windows.

It may not be as simple as Dong-chul wants though, as it turns out the hostage-takers are experienced criminals. All three escaped from a prison transport bus that morning, and are known for serious crimes such as rape, murder, and robbery.

Taking the hostage situation much more seriously now, the team prepares a room for the hostage negotiations to take place. Although crude, the TVs and phone system setup actually looks pretty good.

In a bid to appeal to the hostage-takers, one of their mothers has been called to the scene. The mother worriedly asks the team to reassure her that her son will be able to live if he surrenders. The team exchanges a look, but it falls to Tae-joo to give the half-truth that it will be better for her son if he gives in now.

So the mother climbs onto a chair, and calls out to her son to come out—one of the hostage-takers, Ahn Kwang-seok, comes to the window, a crazed look in his eye. Desperate, his mother pleads with Kwang-seok to give up because the detectives will forgive him, but her presence just tips him over the edge, and he bashes furiously at the barred window with a chair and orders the police to take her away.

Realizing this isn’t going as planned, Dong-chul grabs the mother away. The head hostage-taker, Lee Kang-heon, comes to the window, and coolly asks what will change if they surrender now. With the eyes of the newspapers on him, Kang-heon states that the police have made them all into criminals already. He spits out, “So stop spouting nonsense and get us our truck.”

Creeping close, Dong-chul tries to lie that the truck is already on its way. This infuriates Kang-heon, who knows that the police have cordoned off the area and no truck is coming. He furiously slams the window shut. Two gunshots ring out.

As Kwang-seok’s mother is taken away, Dong-chul broods that they have just poured gasoline on a fire.

Meanwhile, Tae-joo hangs his head to the sound of his mother, as she cries that she can’t end his life and pleads with him to say something, anything.

Dong-chul’s attempts to telephone the hostage-takers proves futile, not because they have disconnected the line—but because the reporters standing by are repeatedly ringing to get an exclusive interview. Dong-chul orders Nam-shik to take the phones from the reporters, but there are so many he still can’t get through.

12:46. Contemplative, Tae-joo watches the reporter speaking on the roof, as his segment is simultaneously broadcast on the TV within the room and suddenly understands—the hostage-takers are watching the TV from inside the house. That’s how they knew the truck was a fabrication.

Resolute, Tae-joo takes a spade and smashes both the phone line and TV box on the outside of the house. He explains to Dong-chul, “We have to cut them off from the outside. We have to corner them. We can’t let them control us like this.”

13:02. As the time creeps ever closer to two o’clock, Dong-chul questions whether cutting off the phone line was a smart idea and orders Nam-shik to connect it again… which is when Kang-heon comes to the window to ask what the police are playing at.

Tae-joo immediately adopts a calming tone as he asks that the hostage-takers show them that the hostages are safe. Once that happens, they can provide a doctor and their other demands. Although wary about letting Tae-joo take the lead, Dong-chul backs him up.

Kang-heon shows the mother and daughter, afraid but unhurt, and requests that food be sent to them along with the doctor—as well as a cassette of the song “Holiday” by the Bee Gees. Afterwards, Dong-chul scoffs that now is not the time for silly requests.

Running out of time, the team decides to send Na-young, dressed as a nurse, in place of the doctor because she is the only one who is trained in first aid. Although Na-young declares that she will be all right—and Yong-ki unwisely advises Na-young to flirt with the hostage-takers to distract them—Dong-chul, Tae-joo, and Nam-shik are tense at this risky move.

Kang-heon doesn’t look happy that a nurse has been sent instead of a doctor, but lets a nervous Na-young through, gun trained on Tae-joo the entire time.

Ten minutes pass as Dong-chul paces uneasily outside, when head detective Kim Kyung-se strides through the crowd with a SWAT team at his beck and call. He is completely indifferent to Dong-chul’s anger, and scorns that his team hasn’t been able to do anything in the hours they’ve been here.

Tae-too tries to reason with Kyung-se, explaining that if he and his men storm the house now, Officer Yoon Na-young will be in danger—and the reporters will probably get footage of the hostages or fugitives being killed on camera.

Kyung-se rocks Tae-joo’s world as he answers that that’s the point—their superiors want the reporters to display justice being served. Not caring how it sounds, Kyung-se smirks, “It would paint a pretty picture.”

On the count of three, the troops move on the house. Kang-heon warns them back, a gun pointed at Na-young’s head… and to Dong-chul’s dismay, Kyung-se tells Kang-heon that he will be killed on the spot if he kills “that cop,” outing Na-young.

13:20. The standoff stretches out, Kang-heon still threatening to kill Na-young, when Tae-joo hears the doctor’s voice in his head. He urges Tae-joo’s mother to make a decision quickly, as Kyung-se simultaneously screams that this is Kang-heon’s last chance… and Dong-chul’s hand on Tae-joo’s shoulder pulls him back to 1988.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo sneak into the house through the window that they spied earlier—and immediately get caught by Kang-heon (some plan, ha). Kang-heon handcuffs the two plus Na-young together in a small room, but not before they notice the as-yet-unseen third criminal, hugging his bleeding side.

The three put their heads together to get out of the bind, quite literally, as Dong-chul and Tae-joo take it in turns to try and bite the hairpin from Na-young’s hair to use as a lock pick. They can’t reach, so instead the three strain, fumble, and yank their way to their feet (despite Dong-chul’s whining).

It’s much easier for Tae-joo to reach Na-young’s hair in this position (hubba hubba), but in walks Kang-heon to upset their plan. Dong-chul manages to hide the hairpin under his foot, and Tae-joo talks his way out of the cuffs in order to administer CPR to Kang-heon’s severely injured and bleeding comrade, Han Hee-chul.

13:40. It turns hairy as Hee-chul stops breathing, but Tae-joo’s desperate attempts at CPR revive him. Hee-chul’s buddies Kang-heon and Kwang-seok look genuinely relieved, carefully watched by Dong-chul.

13:52. Tae-joo tries to appeal to Kang-heon that his friend Hee-chul will go into shock again and die without proper medical attention, and asks that the other hostages are let go now that they have him and Dong-chul. Hee-chul protests that he’s willing to die and won’t leave.

Fed up, Dong-chul asks if the fugitives think they’re in some sort of movie—since they’re all violent criminals, they should stop pretending to be loyal and accept their punishment. Irate and a little bit drunk, Kwang-seok presses his knife to Dong-chul’s throat and asks who the violent criminals are, because it isn’t him and his friends.

Kwang-seok screams that all he and Hee-chul did to deserve five years in prison was steal a box of ramyun—and Kang-heon may have stolen 5 million won but he was given a disproportionate 17 years in prison for it. Meanwhile, men like (real-life) Jeon Kyung-hwan steal 7 billion and only get 7 years for it.

Kang-heon dispassionately says that of course the newspapers are reporting that they are violent—because then no one will pity them when they are shot dead. Kang-heon scoffs that the laws in Korea have only ever let the rich go free and imprisoned the poor.

Dong-chul scoffs right back that this isn’t the way to change the world—no one is going to listen to them now. An angry Kwang-seok pushes the knife into Dong-chul’s throat, but Dong-chul can’t be stopped. In his righteous fury, Dong-chul ignores Tae-joo’s warning and screams that the three fugitives should have fought back legally instead of hold innocent people hostage.

Kang-heon pulls Kwang-seok away from Dong-chul, but in his hazed judgment, Kwang-seok wants to make the world pay attention to him. He yanks the hostage mother to the window, brandishing a knife at her throat and jeering at the reporters and SWAT team to come in.

Kang-heon shoves him away from the window, but his firm hold on Kwang-seok has slipped and Kwang-seok turns on Kang-heon. The gun spins from Kang-heon’s grasp to the floor, just as Dong-chul and Tae-joo take advantage of the chaos to pick their handcuffs. But not in time, as Hee-chul gets to the gun and shoots into the ceiling, stopping the fight between Kang-heon and Kwang-seok. Hee-chul cries that they didn’t escape prison to become like this.

Dong-chul seizes the opportunity to agree that the three men have been wronged, so they have to live to fight the injustice—and even though people might not believe their word, they will believe Dong-chul’s.

Tae-joo is quick to add that they will help with lawyers, and in any way they can, while the hostage mother pledges to tell people how good they were to them. Even the little girl tells the three that they aren’t bad men.

Hee-chul’s hand wavers, and hope blooms on Kang-heon’s face… just as the SWAT team makes their move on the house. Hee-chul’s face crumples and he raises the gun to his head, as he sobs that he can’t go back to prison. Dong-chul gets free, and Kang-heon rushes to Hee-chul’s side. But it’s too late. Hee-chul pulls the trigger, and shoots himself.

In the shock of the aftermath, Kwang-seok utters that his life is over and holds the knife to his throat—but Dong-chul stops it with his bare hands. Ferocious, Dong-chul asks why Kwang-seok would kill himself when his life is so unfair, and seethes, “If you kill yourself here, no one will know it wasn’t your fault.”

His pleas fall on deaf ears, as Kwang-seok pushes Dong-chul away. He slits his own throat.

A man with nothing left to lose, Kang-heon grabs Na-young and hauls her towards the window. Kang-heon asks what he and his friends did that was so wrong—is stealing some money a grave sin?

Angry tears welling, Kang-heon yells that this country is full of corrupt people—prosecutors and judges set rich people free, and journalists never listen when innocent people protest.

The shocked crowd waits with bated breath, and Kang-heon yells, “You should have listened! If you have money, not guilty. If you don’t have money, guilty. One law for the rich and another for the poor. What a stupid country.”

Kang-heon turns back into the room, a hunted man, and defies Dong-chul or Tae-joo to take the only thing he has left, his gun. Defeated, Kang-heon says, “Time’s up. It’s over.”

13:59. Tae-joo tries one last appeal to Kang-heon, just as the doctor readies to take him off the ventilator, but Kang-heon won’t stand down. So Tae-joo offers to be the one who is shot in place of Na-young. Kang-heon replies they are all going to die now and adds, “You think you’re alive don’t you? But you’re being fooled. You’re dead. Just like this whole rotten world.”

14:00. Resigned to his fate, Tae-joo wishes Na-young goodbye and moves to grapple Kang-heon. Kang-heon shoots. At the same time, a blinding light fills the room; the SWAT team bursts through the window; and Tae-joo is taken off the ventilator in 2018. His body lies still in the present as his mother cries over him.

But then, Tae-joo startles awake in 1988 again. Na-young’s face falls as she tells Tae-joo the captain stepped in to save him, and Tae-joo runs out of the house. In a daze, he walks past Kwang-seok’s mother as she implores her son to wake up, and a bleeding Kang-heon in an ambulance, to Yong-ki crying out, “Why did it have to be him?”

Tae-joo slowly walks up to another ambulance, with a body covered in a sheet inside. Sorrowful, Tae-joo says, “I heard someone would die today. I thought it was going to be me. I’m sorry, captain.”

Tae-joo respectfully places Dong-chul’s fallen slipper back on his foot… and it twitches.

Turns out the bullet only grazed Dong-chul on his arm and he was lying down for a snooze (what a troll). And Yong-ki was crying because he got a face full of tear gas. Tae-joo struggles to get the words “thank you” out so Dong-chul rescues him before it gets too awkward, “What did I tell you before? If you’re thankful, buy me a drink.”

Relieved, Tae-joo walks away but stops as he hears his mother’s voice call out to him over the radio. “Tae-joo, you smiled. I won’t take you off the ventilator again. I’m sorry I doubted you, my son.”

Back at the station, Nam-shik asks Na-young to go with him to a shaman for a protection charm, since Dong-chul has one and it saved his life today. Affronted, Dong-chul corrects Nam-shik that it was his animal-like instincts that saved him. The whole team watches as Na-young lets Nam-shik down easy because she’s already busy going to a movie.

After she has gone, Nam-shik wails to a teasing Yong-ki that he definitely wasn’t just rejected. Silently watching Nam-shik run off, Tae-joo looks inside his desk drawer—and finds a movie admission ticket. D’awwww.

Tae-joo swipes the ticket before he heads out with Dong-chul to celebrate at the bar, where he fusses over Dong-chul like a mother hen that he shouldn’t drink that much. Unrepentant, Dong-chul chugs down more alcohol and tells Tae-joo to knock off the uncharacteristic worrying.

The barman arrives with some special liquor for Dong-chul (who is not a connoisseur, ha) and jokingly asks Tae-joo what it’s like to come back from the dead. Tae-joo honestly answers that it’s exactly how it sounds, earning himself a sharp look from Dong-chul and nervous laughter from the barman.

Tae-joo and Dong-chul’s attention is pulled to the TV, as a newscaster reports that hostage-taker Lee Kang-heon was shot at the scene and died in the hospital. Two other bar patrons moan that all three men should have been given the death sentence straight away anyway instead of wasting their tax money.

In a separate report, the newscaster continues that there has been controversy that embezzler Jeon Kyung-hwan’s 7-year sentence was too harsh given that he has paid back most of the money and committed no other crimes. Disheartened, Dong-chul repeats what Kang-heon said before, “If you have money, not guilty. If you don’t have money, guilty.”

Nam-shik runs into the bar, pulling Dong-chul and Tae-joo away from their celebration to another crime scene. It’s the woman from the start of the episode, Go Yeong-suk—and we’ve seen her before. Yeong-suk was the woman hiding in the bathroom stall at the Hawaii Room Salon with Tae-joo’s father. Apparently she and Dad have been living together.

Tae-joo is shocked to hear this, but he’s even more disturbed when the crime-scene analyst pulls a pair of panties from Go Yeong-suk’s mouth. Just like the Manicure Murderer.

Horror mounting, Tae-joo pulls back the bedsheet from Yeong-suk’s body—revealing her perfectly painted nails. The fragments in Tae-joo’s memory—of the woman in white, her painted nails, Dad’s bloodied face—coalesce together into one nightmare realization.

Tae-joo’s father is the Manicure Murderer.

 
COMMENTS

Well, that was a hell of an episode. I mean that in every sense—it was an amazing hour of television, and I also felt like we were being dragged through the worst of humanity watching it.

There is no denying that this was a bleak episode. I have praised this show for balancing light and dark elements before, but in this episode, the light was used as a stark contrast to show us how dark it could actually get. The touches of humor and almost sympathetic villains made me believe that there could be a happy-ish ending—so it hit me hard when hope died. It was as if these three men had their story written for them by someone else, from their unjust imprisonment to their escape and eventual death. The moment they took the hostages, they were just working towards the inevitable, with the reporters and SWAT team waiting outside to draw blood, and no one willing to listen to them.

This wasn’t a victory, and the show didn’t play it as one. This was a messy tragedy that police like Dong-chul had a hand in creating, by playing along with a system that demonizes criminals and even locks away the innocent. Tae-joo has had to confront the idea that his code of ethics is too unbending, and now Dong-chul is witnessing the worst version of his. This episode marks the first episode that I unreservedly enjoyed more than the BBC version, because it used many of the same beats but wove a larger societal problem into a tight story—and doubly so because this episode is based on a true story. All three fugitives in this story were real, Kang-heon really did make that famous speech about the innocent and guilty, and all three men did die by suicide or getting shot. Their deaths raised huge questions about the South Korean “Preventative Custody Policy” which allowed the courts to lock up repeat offenders for very long periods of time, in an effort to reduce future crimes.

I imagine the real-life example of Jeon Kyung-hwan, who embezzled 7 billion won and got off comparatively lightly because he was the brother of the ex-president of South Korea, was chosen deliberately as well, given that he was sentenced for another fraud case in 2004. The cycle of corruption doesn’t end, even as it is contrasted with the cruel indifference to the three fugitives’ deaths. They were unimportant and died a small death, and there is a sadness in that. On the other hand, Dong-chul’s tarnished ethics are right—the fugitives were bashing against a corrupt system, but they should have done things the right way, and not harmed other innocent people. They should have continued to fight, because no one else would do it for them.

This episode did an excellent job of weaving the timelines together between 1988 and 2018. It is a smart idea to connect Tae-joo’s fate to the hostage-takers, which heightened the stakes for the present time in a way we could appreciate in 1988. This episode was deliberately very claustrophobic, as the action is centered in one tiny street with a very simple premise—there are no twists or turns, just a mounting tension—and in 2018, Tae-joo is trapped by his own mind. If there is one criticism I have of Life on Mars, it is that the danger in 2018 is somewhat nebulous, and repetitive. We understand that Tae-joo is in trouble in 2018, but with no way to connect to the people there, it was at risk of feeling stagnant. However, in this episode, 1988 Tae-joo directly affected what happened in 2018 (when he smiled), anchoring the story.

The punches keep coming tonight as well, as Tae-joo finally connects the pieces with his father, the woman in white, and the Manicure Murderer. If I were nitpicking, I would have said that it has taken Tae-joo too long to figure this out, but on the other hand, who wants to believe that their father is a serial killer? I have to say, I’m still not entirely convinced that Dad is the Manicure Murderer, especially since it looks like he is being set up with Yeong-suk’s death. But he is definitely a shady character, so I’m not holding out much hope for his redemption. Tae-joo is going to have to come to terms with that, and fast, because fellow time traveler Kim Min-seok is finally making another appearance and ready to make more trouble.

Tune of the episode: I was torn between “Holiday” by the Bee Gees during Kang-heon’s coda, and “Nameless Bird” by Sohn Hyun-hee during Dong-chul’s fake-out death, but I’ll have to go with “Holiday.” That was a gut-punch of a scene.

Mystery of the episode: Is Dad really the Manicure Murderer?

 
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92 July 4, 2018August 8, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 8

by Sunny

Tae-joo chases down the demons of his past but the closer he gets, the more his mind seems to rebel. He’s finally diving into the main mystery, but it’s hard to search for the truth when you’re not sure you’ll like the answer. To make matters worse, memories continue to bombard Tae-joo with a vengeance and the effects are not going unnoticed.

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

The body of Go Yeong-suk—the woman Dad was hiding in the bathroom with—has been found in a hotel. The scene reeks of the Manicure Murderer’s M.O. and everything points to Dad as the killer. Shaken, Tae-joo stumbles out of the room. Happy memories of Dad flash through his mind to the soundtrack of his pounding heart and train whistles. Everything comes to a grinding halt with the image of Dad’s bloodied face. “It can’t be,” Tae-joo whispers.

The team heads to Dad’s house first thing the next morning. Today, their captain Dong-chul’s aggressive approach sets Tae-joo more on edge than usual. Dad isn’t home, and Mom explains that he went to meet someone the night before. Little Tae-joo adds that they’re going on a trip together and Dong-chul notes the stacks of clothes ready to be packed.

Dong-chul notes that it doesn’t look like they’re preparing for a short trip. Mom nervously admits it’s their first family vacation so Dad suggested they stay awhile. Aunt barges in, then, complaining that Dad has been messing with her cosmetics—that she sells—again.

Mom sends Little Tae-joo with Aunt and then the police literally tear the house apart in their search. In addition to personal items—eating utensils, toothbrush, and a cigarette butt—bagged by the officers, Dong-chul also snags a cookie tin. By the time Dong-chul calls it a day, the house looks like a tornado blew through.

Outside, detective Nam-shik reports that the neighbors had nothing but positive things to say about Dad. The only odd thing he’d learned was apparently that Dad used the corner store payphone every evening at 10 p.m. Nam-shik leaves to fetch the call records and Yong-ki sets out to locate victim Go Yeong-suk’s acquaintances.

Tae-joo lingers behind to help Mom straighten up a little. Mom asks if Dad’s done something really bad this time, but Tae-joo can only promise to tell her as soon as he discovers anything.

Rejoining Dong-chul in the car, Tae-joo is appalled to see him rifling through the cookie tin he’d swiped. From the contents, it’s clearly a collection of Tae-joo’s treasures, but among them are lighters that could only have come from Dad. Dong-chul argues that those are evidence.

The duo drops in on Manager Park to get the skinny on Go Yeong-suk’s corpse. Manager Park confirms that she suffocated on the panties crammed down her throat and reveals that he found a tuft of chloroformed cotton in her nostrils. Na-young comes in to report that the test results on the fingerprints and blood found at the motel belong to Dad.

Dong-chul holds the folder out to Tae-joo, but the younger detective is in the middle of another episode. Tae-joo imagines his father in the motel room, smiling sadistically as he paints Go Yeong-suk’s nails. With horror, he watches as Dad murders the woman in his imagination and then bolts from the room.

In the bathroom, Tae-joo empties his stomach into a toilet and stumbles over to the sink to wash his face. When he looks back at the mirror, a bright light flashes and the mirror switches between his reflection and his doctor and nurse. The medical team attempts to stimulate Tae-joo’s brain, but is disappointed with the results.

Tae-joo screams that he can see them but the doctor sighs that his reaction is too weak. “I believe something is getting in the way of Mr. Han Tae-joo’s consciousness,” Doc tells the nurse, “Otherwise, it could be that he’s deliberately avoiding the situation.”

Tae-joo presses for answers but Doc only says that if he wants out, he’ll have to show them something. Tae-joo screams that he’ll find a way to prove that he saw them and smashes his fist into the mirror. Na-young finds him like this and takes him to get his hand bandaged.

After the nurse leaves, Tae-joo quietly wonders how long he has to stay here (in 1988). Na-young figures he still must not like it there, but Tae-joo quickly assures her that’s not what he meant. Tae-joo admits that his childhood is fuzzy, but recently unpleasant memories have been resurfacing.

Na-young points out humans only have access to five percent of their memory, while the rest is stored in the subconscious. She says it’s a defense mechanism and suggests that he not try too hard to remember. “Some memories may be better left forgotten,” she tells Tae-joo. Dong-chul bursts into the room and eyes the pair suspiciously. Na-young hides a smile and excuses herself. Dong-chul notices Tae-joo’s bandaged hand and asks if Tae-joo is trying to copy him. Hee.

Back at the station, Yong-ki is enjoying himself as he “interviews” (cough—flirts—cough) with the dead girl’s coworkers. His fun is cut short by the arrival of Dong-chul and Tae-joo. The women tell Tae-joo they didn’t really know Go Yeong-suk since she’d been working less than a week.

Despite not recognizing his name, the women immediately react do Dad’s photo. They call him “Mr. Pacific” after the cosmetic brand he always gifts them with—after stealing it from Tae-joo’s aunt. One woman worries she might be a target since Dad had also given her a bottle of red nail polish.

The women reveal that Dad had another girlfriend. Alas, all they know is that she’s part of the Lottery Gang. One of the women thinks Dad is probably already dead—apparently the dead woman Dad was seeing had also been involved with dirty CEO Oh Jung-man. It’s a name Dong-chul recognizes and he looks unnerved.

Later, Nam-shik explains to Tae-joo that CEO Oh owns a lot of property the police can’t touch. Yong-ki wonders if they really should go digging for Dad’s body and Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul really thinks Dad is their killer. The other detectives seem convinced, but Tae-joo argues there’s no motive.

Na-young brings Dad’s payphone call records. Most calls are to the motel where the dead girl, Go Yeong-suk, had been staying. However, there were a handful to a coffee shop and a stationary store, and one call abroad. The coffee shop matches one of Dad’s lighters from Little Tae-joo’s treasure tin, so the detectives head over to investigate.

The manager denies knowing Dad, so Tae-joo asks for a list of the girls working there. Dong-chul notes the shop closes at 10 p.m.—the same time Dad called. The detectives overhear an argument between the manager and young woman who works there.

The men get up to block the girl’s exit but she’s feisty and sends the rest of the patrons running by brandishing a knife at the detectives. Hilariously, her crazy is no match for Dong-chul. He breaks through his team and hoses her down with a fire extinguisher, muttering his usual gripe about disrespecting cops. Hee.

They manage to sit her down for questioning, but she remains uncooperative. Her disrespectful attitude grates Dong-chul’s nerves and when she claims not to know Dad, he blows up. Dong-chul can tell she lives at the café and therefore has been the receiver of Dad’s phone calls after the shop closes. Yong-ki’s comment that she’s dating Dad finally elicits an answer and she snaps that not only is dad old, but he already has a girlfriend—Madame Jo.

She doesn’t know anything else about the mystery woman, and has only seen her once, herself. When asked why Dad calls, she reveals that he asks about business since he’s the boss of the Lottery Gang. The detectives are shocked and the young woman continues that Dad even runs a casino with Madame Jo.

They drag her back to the station where they figure out there are nine members in the Lottery Gang—with Dad and Madame Jo at the top. Na-young adds that the gang has made 750 million won (or roughly 750,000 dollars). The men try to calculate the bank interest but the café girl snorts. She points out that criminals would make more using their cash to give out personal loans—aka loan sharking.

When asked how Dad handled his money, she says he carried around what he needed in a bag and hid the rest in a storage room only he and Madam Jo know about. The detectives realize that Dad didn’t have a bag when they’d first arrested him and return to the Hawaii Room Salon to check the bathroom.

Alas, the ceiling hatch they’d remembered being ajar is now empty. Dong-chul figures Go Yeong-suk likely retrieved the money while they’d interrogated Dad. He thinks they fought over the money and that was Dad’s motive for murdering her. Feeling overwhelmed, Tae-joo steps out and Nam-shik worries they’ll be in trouble with Chief Kim for releasing Dad. In the hall, Tae-joo notes the palm tree mural on the wall and recognizes it as the backdrop to the postcard Dad had sent home from “abroad.”

Afterwards, Tae-joo sits down for a meal at the bar and confides to the manager that he’s unsure what he should do. Barkeep makes an analogy that when cooking gukbap—a kind of soup—you can try to mask the smell but it won’t work. Only by realizing the source—the meat—can you take the proper steps to eliminate the odor. “If there’s a problem,” he concludes, “you need to find the source of the problem first.”

Dong-chul arrives and asks Tae-joo what’s wrong, suggesting that he just go home if he doesn’t want to work. Tae-joo recalls that Dong-chul once said Tae-joo came here because he wanted to. Looking up at Dad’s wanted poster, he vows to find the source of the problem.

That night, the men sit in Dong-chul’s car staking out Tae-joo’s family’s house. Tae-joo chides Dong-chul for eating the candy in the treasure tin he’d swiped from the house. Dong-chul gripes that it’s not like they belong to Tae-joo. Hehe.

Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to guard the treasure tin and steps out to take a wiz. After he’s gone, Tae-joo spots his younger self and goes out to return the tin. Little Tae-joo says sadly that he knows the detective came to arrest Dad because he’s done something bad. Tae-joo’s heart breaks as the boy asks if his Dad is a bad person.

Tae-joo quickly denies it, saying that they still don’t know anything for certain. Opening the treasure tin, the detective tells the boy he also used to collect pogs (small disks bearing popular cartoons or athletes). Little Tae-joo lights up and asks if the detective collected Haitai pogs.

Tae-joo admits he had every player except one and Little Tae-joo says it’s the same for him. He shares that he thinks the stationary store in the city has the coveted pog, but Mom won’t let him go alone. His words trigger something for Tae-joo and he promises to bring Dad back.

Afterwards, Dong-chul is startled when Tae-joo zips past him in his car. At the station, Tae-joo asks Na-young about Dad’s payphone calls to the stationary store. Na-young confirms that Dad had inquired about his son’s missing pog and Tae-joo enlists her help.

They drive Dong-chul’s car to the station and park in the alley to stake it out. Na-young doubts Dad will show since he’s on the wanted list, but Tae-joo is confident. “If he’s the person I remember,” Tae-joo says, “he’ll definitely come.”

Just as the store owner starts to close up, Dad runs up. Tae-joo corners Dad in the store and asks him to come down to the station. Dad nervously claims he’s busy and promises to come tomorrow instead. Tae-joo ignores him and says he won’t use handcuffs, imploring Dad to come now.

Throwing some merchandise at Tae-joo, Dad escapes outside only to be caught by Na-young. Dad plays dumb when Na-young accuses him of operating gambling parlors and suspected murder. Tae-joo ignores Dad’s whines that he’s innocent as he slaps cuffs on his father’s wrists.

However, when Tae-joo mentions that Go Yeong-suk is dead, Dad seems genuinely shocked. Dad cries that he had no involvement but suspects CEO Oh to be involved. He explains that she’d argued with someone at the motel when he’d stepped out. Dad admits that he’s involved with some shady stuff, but is adamant that he’s never killed anyone.

Dad pleads with Tae-joo, asking if he really thinks Dad’s that kind of person. Tae-joo honestly admits he doesn’t know what kind of person Dad is. They’re interrupted when a group of thugs calls out to Dad. Identifying them as CEO Oh’s men, Dad urges the detectives to run since the thugs won’t care if they’re police.

Tae-joo orders Na-young to get in the car with Dad as he steps between them and the thugs. A fight ensues and while Na-young is distracted by her concern for Tae-joo, Dad manages to escape. He warns them they’ll be in danger if they continue to search for him before disappearing up the street.

Tae-joo is at an unfair disadvantage going up against four gangsters armed with pipes, so Na-young jumps into Dong-chul’s car and drives through the fracas. The thugs scatter and she’s able to run to Tae-joo. Unfortunately, they’re still outnumbered and things are looking grim when suddenly a siren sounds.

Backup arrives and the thugs are cut off by Dong-chul and Yong-ki. The detectives quickly subdue the gangsters and Tae-joo asks them where CEO Oh is. He fills Dong-chul in on what Dad had said, but the thugs reveal CEO Oh is away on business—and has been for days. Dong-chul grumbles that everything that comes out of Dad’s mouth is a lie.

Catching the despondent look on Tae-joo’s bloody face, Dong-chul barks that Tae-joo should’ve told him if he was going somewhere. Tae-joo’s quiet apology only serves to worry Dong-chul further. He grumbles that Tae-joo’s face is messed up before proceeding to clean it off with a classic spit-wash. Aww… he’s worried.

While Tae-joo doesn’t even seem to notice, the rest of the team is completely weirded out by Dong-chul’s affectionate fussing. Noticing their watchful eyes, Dong-chul barks at everyone to pack up. Yong-ki whispers that he also hurt his hand but Dong-chul only snaps that he’ll live. Hee.

Only now does Dong-chul notice his car—which Na-young had crashed into a stack of boxes moments before. Tae-joo finally moves, briskly walking in the opposite direction and breaking into a full run with Na-young when Dong-chul shouts after them, “Which jerk did this?”

Everyone returns to the station and Dong-chul notes that Nam-shik is not watching the café girl like he should be. The young detective runs in behind him, confessing that he needed to use the restroom. The café girl whines that she’s hungry until Dong-chul explodes that she needs to earn her meal.

Pouting, the girl says she did and holds up a sheet saying she identified Madame Jo. The detectives are stunned to recognize her as one of Go Yeong-suk’s coworkers. Dong-chul barks out orders and the team races off to catch her.

Madame Jo isn’t home but they find an armload of Pacific brand cosmetics on her dresser and Tae-joo’s handcuffs—that he’d used on Dad—discarded in a corner. They visit nearby businesses with Dad and Madame Jo’s photos, but don’t discover anything useful.

Morning breaks, but they have yet to find any leads. However, Tae-joo is positive the pair hasn’t left town as they haven’t had time to retrieve the money yet. Dong-chul agrees there’s no way they’d leave without it, but the question is—where is that money?

Na-young chimes in that she did some research on Madame Jo and discovered she was the mastermind behind the Lottery Gang creating a gambling den. She lists numerous properties in Madame Jo’s name, revealing that she also owns 60 percent of the Hawaii Room Salon. One of those properties is an abandoned cement factory near the railroad.

Dong-chul recalls the owner of that factory had committed suicide five years ago and Na-young says that man was Madame Jo’s husband. The officer keeping guard over Tae-joo’s family’s home calls and reports that Little Tae-joo has gone missing.

The detectives rush over and learn officers have already searched the neighborhood to no avail. Little Tae-joo has been missing for two hours and Dong-chul wonders if Dad kidnapped his son. The ringing phone triggers Tae-joo’s memory and he flashes back to his childhood when he’d received a phone call from Dad and snuck out to meet him.

Tae-joo asks where the nearest train station is, announcing that Little Tae-joo went there to meet Dad. Dong-chul asks how he knows but Tae-joo doesn’t have an answer. Luckily, Yong-ki remembers the station is near Madame Jo’s cement factory and the team heads off. Before leaving, Tae-joo promises Mom he’ll bring her son home.

They find Little Tae-joo sitting on a bench outside the station and Dong-chul and Tae-joo question him. Little Tae-joo says Dad called him out to the station to give him his missing pog. He asks if the detectives are there to catch Dad, and Dong-chul fibs that they just want to apologize to Dad for suspecting him.

Little Tae-joo accepts this and says Dad is supposed to meet him at 9 o’clock. Dong-chul hands a walkie-talkie to a plain-clothed Na-young. He tells her to stand near Little Tae-joo and contact them if Dad appears. To Tae-joo’s horror, Yong-ki pulls out a case of guns for the rest of the team. Despite his reservations, Tae-joo reluctantly takes the pistol handed to him.

The hour comes and goes, but no sign of Dad. Dong-chul thinks Dad has tricked them and calls the team back. Tae-joo lingers behind and Na-young gives the boy her jacket. She starts to walk back when Little Tae-joo suddenly takes off running. She and our Tae-joo give chase.

Little Tae-joo had spotted Dad running down the train tracks up ahead. Dad notices them behind him and yells for the trio to turn back. The scene begins to overlap with Tae-joo’s memory of running down the train tracks as a child, except in the memory, he’s crying as he runs away from Dad.

Tae-joo sinks to the ground as his memories converge and he watches Na-young running in her white dress before it shifts to a memory of a dark-haired woman in a white dress running through the woods. Then it shifts again to the hole in the wall—where Tae-joo had seen Dad’s bloody face—and someone strikes the woman in the white dress, causing her to fall back on the table.

Tae-joo snaps out of the memory, realizing the woman he’d seen his father attack is Na-young. He takes off at full speed after the others and somehow finds himself racing through the woods as hospital sounds from 2018 echo in his ears. The nurse is worried that Tae-joo’s heart rate is spiking and Doc assumes Tae-joo is doing something in his subconscious.

Memories continue to overlap with the present as Tae-joo makes his way to Madame Jo’s cement factory. Inside, Tae-joo watches his younger self pass through an entryway and pauses. Doc says something is either blocking Tae-joo’s consciousness, or he’s trying to disregard the current situation.

Steeling himself, Tae-joo passes through and finds the floor on the other side littered with money. Little Tae-joo runs one way but our Tae-joo hears Dad yelling and follows it. He reaches the room just in time to see Dad strike a woman wearing a white dress with a pipe. Dad turns and sees the detective but doesn’t have time to react before they hear a sound on the other side of a wall.

It’s Little Tae-joo and he screams when he sees Dad. Dad drops the pipe and runs back to grab a bag of money, sparing a quick glance at our detective before taking off after his son. Tae-joo makes no move to follow, staring instead at the body on the table. Walking over, Tae-joo is surprised to find that not only is she dead, it’s not Na-young at all—it’s Madame Jo.

Na-young calls him from behind and Tae-joo turns to find her standing behind him. A wave of relief crashes over him but then he remembers Dad and takes off after him. Tae-joo quickly catches up and pulls out his gun.

Turning back, Dad demands to know why Tae-joo is hounding him so much. “I’m here because of you, who I erased from my memory,” Tae-joo cries. Dad is understandably confused by this seemingly nutty guy. Ignoring Tae-joo’s odd response, Dad shouts that he had no choice but to hit Madame Jo because she attacked him first.

Tae-joo shouts at Dad to stop lying. “I trusted you,” he says, “No matter how bad the things you did were I believed that you wouldn’t have killed someone.” Dad reiterates that he’d only defended himself against Madame Jo, but Tae-joo is asking about Go Yeong-suk. Dad argues that he had nothing to do with that.

Calming down, Dad implores Tae-joo to let him go. He says his family is waiting and he’d planned to quit crime after getting the money. Tae-joo asks if his family will be happy with his dirty money and wonders if Dad plans to keep running for the rest of his life. “Your wife and son don’t need that money,” Tae-joo says, “We’re happy if you’re by our side.”

As sirens begin to wail in the distance, Tae-joo tells Dad he’s arresting him for compulsive gambling, operating a gambling den, assault and battery, and suspicion of murder. Dad sighs and finally holds up his hands to be cuffed, telling Tae-joo to do what needs done. Tae-joo clips one cuff before Dad smashes a rock into the side of his head.

Dropping the humility act, Dad asks why Tae-joo had to make things messy, and wonders who he is to worry about Dad’s family. Grabbing the money, Dad runs off and Tae-joo struggles to follow. He makes his way back to the tracks just in time to hear Dad arguing with someone.

Dad scuffles with a man in a baseball cap, accusing him of killing Go Yeong-suk. The guy in the cap pulls out a gun and Dad tries to run back to Tae-joo, screaming for help. Just before they reach each other, the gun fires and Dad collapses. Then, the scene rewinds and Tae-joo tries again to reach his dad. He comes up short and the scene rewinds a third time. This time Dad calls his name right before the gun goes off, and he falls dead for the final time.

 
COMMENTS

Well, if this wasn’t an incredibly traumatic episode, I don’t know what is. As if thinking his father (and personal hero) is a cold-blooded serial killer wasn’t bad enough, Tae-joo then had to watch the man be murdered three times right in front of him. And was completely helpless to stop it. It seems to have been inevitable, as Dad had died around this time in Tae-joo’s original timeline. But if the dissonance between Tae-joo’s memories of the train track chase and the actual event (being that he had been running away from Dad in the memory but both Tae-joos were chasing after Dad in the “present”) it suggests that some things can be altered. That, or Tae-joo’s memories themselves are unreliable.

Halfway through the show, and I still don’t have a solid handle on the mechanics. With all the time-warping and auditory interruptions from Doc, it would seem this is just a crazy lucid coma dream. But everything is far too intricate to just be a figment of Tae-joo’s imagination. It’s both frustrating and refreshing. The mystery has added another layer, as well. The one thing Dad never lied about was his innocence in Go Yeong-suk’s death. He seemed to think the real culprit was CEO Oh, but he was supposedly out of town. And was that CEO Oh who shot Dad? Tae-joo never got a clear look at him. And although black baseball caps are common… I can’t help but think it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kim Min-seok.

Either way, Tae-joo has his work cut out for him.

Switching over to the things that didn’t break my soul: Na-young and Dong-chul. Both took notice when Tae-joo started acting off and then made a point to watch out for him. They’re both so protective of him and honestly, Tae-joo needs that more than he probably realizes. I love that Na-young (who I’m not sure even knows how to drive) was ready to mow down a group of thugs in order to get them off of Tae-joo. And I about died when Dong-chul started mothering him like an errant kid brother. I mean, Tae-joo stole his car, lost the suspect, and got beaten up in the process… but not only did Dong-chul not reprimand him, he was genuinely worried Tae-joo had gotten hurt.

As we glimpsed in his 2018 life, Tae-joo has a bad habit of closing himself off from others. However, when it comes to Na-young and Dong-chul, Tae-joo is surprisingly receptive. I love how candid he is with them, honestly voicing his uncertainty about what to do and feelings of displacement. What makes it so rewarding is that while neither can fully understand the extent of his words (I mean, time-travel?) they’re both happy to listen and offer advice. They’re truly forming a family and Tae-joo needs them now, more than ever. His mental state was already a bit fragile thanks to the time trip, but after everything that’s happened in the last episode alone it’d be no surprise if it broke down completely.

 
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62 July 16, 2018July 16, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 9

by Helcat

Life on Mars comes back punching after a breather week, and Tae-joo has one thing on his mind: vengeance. Tae-joo’s Dad’s death gets Tae-joo tangled with a deadly gang leader, and he runs smack into one of the biggest corruption rings he’s encountered at the worst time. But when you have conviction and a rough-and-ready team at your back, sometimes things can work out.

 
EPISODE 9 RECAP

Tae-joo watches his father shot dead in front of him, and collapses.

Elsewhere, young Tae-joo hides alone in the darkened tunnel, sobbing and afraid. The police officers mount a hunt for the young boy, and finally find him. Tae-joo gently takes his young self in his arms. Both child and adult Tae-joo scrutinize the team, before child Tae-joo buries his face away.

Back at his apartment, our Tae-joo mindlessly watches TV while the scene of his father hitting the young woman flashes through his thoughts. The old man from before (who is the actual lead actor from the ’80s TV show Tae-joo is watching, Chief Inspector) speaks to him through the television: “Don’t blame yourself. There’s nothing you can do now, Detective.”

Tae-joo’s face hardens as he disagrees, “No, there is something I can do. I will find a way to go back.”

At the morgue, Tae-joo barely keeps it together as Dr. Park informs Tae-joo that Dad was killed with a .389 bullet, and asks if its true that the Seongho Gang are the ones responsible. As soon as Dr. Park is pulled away, though, Tae-joo’s tears fall, and he collapses to the floor beside the body of his father.

Determined to catch Dad’s killer, Tae-joo is quick to order the team to investigate the Seongho Gang to find the link with the man he suspects of ordering the hit, CEO Oh Jung-man. Nam-shik and Yong-ki immediately protest that the Seongho Gang is a well-organized and dangerous organization that more than a few police officers have fallen foul of when trying to investigate.

Unfazed, Tae-joo asks if this means the police shouldn’t do their job, although Dong-chul looks distinctly unhappy when Tae-joo requests that Oh Jung-man be brought in for questioning. Na-young arrives with the news that a muscle relaxant was found on Dad’s clothes, which Dong-chul seeks to dismiss but can’t when Na-young points out that the same relaxant was found on the other murder victim, Go Yeong-suk.

Tae-joo is convinced this means the same person killed them both, and only Oh Jung-man fits that description. Dong-chul firmly tells Tae-joo that there’s no point in considering Jung-man a suspect, and hurries out of the station before Tae-joo can stop him. At least Na-young doesn’t seem daunted when Tae-joo asks her to compile a list of the Seongho gang members for him.

With a heavy heart, Tae-joo takes Dad’s box of possessions to give back to Mom. He discovers that young Tae-joo can’t remember anything of the traumatic scene he witnessed, so adult Tae-joo advises Mom to tell the boy that his father has gone back to Saudi Arabia. Mom tearily accepts the box of clothes and the baseball.

Coldly focused, Tae-joo hunts down Oh Jung-man at the hotel he’s staying at, and bursts in on a golf-club-wielding Jung-man, just as he is about to take (another) swing at a bloodied woman at his feet. Jung-man is so cocky that even when Tae-joo introduces himself as a police officer, Jung-man orders him to come back later.

Jung-man is in for a surprise though, as Tae-joo refuses to leave, handily dispatches Jung-man’s resident thugs, and promptly announces that he is under arrest for assault. Jung-man shark-smiles as he apologizes for not recognizing Tae-joo to begin with, and offers his hand… which Tae-joo slaps a pair of cuffs on.

In the interrogation basement, Tae-joo asks Jung-man when he came back to Insung, and whether he ordered Dad’s and Yeong-suk’s deaths. Even half-dressed, Jung-man is a cool customer as he notes that Tae-joo must be new around here and smirks, saying, “I can’t stand it when other people touch my things. If they were standing in front of me, I wouldn’t order anything… I would murder them myself.”

Before Tae-joo can question him further, Dong-chul interrupts and flings the interview recorder against the wall to smash it into smithereens. Obviously familiar with each other, Jung-man knowingly smiles at Dong-chul and apologizes for not coming to greet him earlier.

Furious, Dong-chul yells at Tae-joo that he told him to wait before he arrested Jung-man. Just as angry, Tae-joo replies that he wasn’t going to wait when it looked like Dong-chul never wanted the investigation to start, and pointedly asks if he’s really that intimidated by Jung-man. Affronted, Dong-chul tries to tell Tae-joo that he isn’t intimidated, and that Tae-joo doesn’t know everything.

Sure enough, head detective Kim Kyung-se appears at the top of the stairs, looking very put out… and we cut to the disheartening scene of Kyung-se wishing Jung-man goodbye, let go as a free man. Dong-chul quietly sneers, “What a scene.”

It isn’t the only indignity Dong-chul has to suffer, either, as a basket of (expensive) fruit is left on his desk from Jung-man’s lawyers. Although Yong-ki is particularly taken by the bananas, Dong-chul rejects the bribe as he asks, “What, do they think we’re a bunch of monkeys?”

Tae-joo meanwhile, bitterly confronts Kyung-se and tells him that he is going to apply for a search warrant for Jung-man. Knocking Tae-joo on the back foot, Kyung-se asks whether he even wants to go back home, and Tae-joo hesitantly asks if there’s a way. Kyung-se agrees that of course there is—so long as Tae-joo keeps quiet. From the way that Tae-joo brushes the imprint of Kyung-se’s hand from his shoulder, I don’t think he likes that advice.

By the time Tae-joo comes back, Dong-chul has left to return the fruit basket to Jung-man. Tae-joo follows, and finds a jovial Jung-man surrounded by beautiful women (including the one he had beaten earlier), the fruit basket sitting out near an extra whiskey glass. Jung-man informs Tae-joo Dong-chul was called away on a business matter.

Tae-joo watches from afar as Dong-chul handles the “business matter” and makes a big show of rejecting an envelope of money from an “appreciative citizen.” Dong-chul is just about to accept the package when he becomes aware of Tae-joo, and quickly covers by slapping the money to the ground. Dong-chul blusters that he isn’t that kind of cop, in the face of the clearly confused man, but Tae-joo has already slipped away.

He’s back to the scene of his father’s murder, trying to retrace the killer’s steps as he heads deep into the forest beside the railway tracks… where he finds a dropped inhaler.

Tae-joo hurries back to the station to ask Na-young to process the evidence, and is disappointed (but not surprised) to hear that his search warrant for Jung-man has been rejected. When he asks where everyone is, Na-young answers that they’ve gone home (lol, Tae-joo), which means it’s left to just the two of them to exhaustively draw up profiles of the Seongho gang members.

When Tae-joo makes Na-young a cup of coffee, she smiles and notes that it’s always her making coffee for other people, so it feels weird to receive a cup—but it’s good. Na-young asks whether Tae-joo ever gets tired, since he never stops working or takes a break.

This reminds Tae-joo of their broken cinema date, which he apologizes for—but Na-young tells him it doesn’t matter since she got the tickets for free anyway. Nooo, it does matter, Na-young.

Tae-joo is pulled away for a disturbance at Jung-man’s club, where a man beats a woman, and only stops when Tae-joo pulls him off her and chucks him out the door. Alone in a private booth, Tae-joo recognizes the woman, Kim Young-ok, as the one that Jung-man beat up as well. She acerbically asks if Tae-joo is Tarzan or something, since he keeps rescuing her.

Young-ok refuses to go to hospital when it’s futile because she will be beaten again shortly, and tells Tae-joo she has a debt to work off for Jung-man. She asks why Tae-joo hasn’t arrested Jung-man yet since he is a murderer—and tells him that Jung-man lied about going to Seoul. Jung-man was in Insung, Young-ok continues, and he ran out on the morning Dad died with his gun after receiving a phone call.

Excited, Tae-joo asks Young-ok to go on record with this information, but she declines and states that she doesn’t want to die by Jung-man’s hands—especially not now that her debt has paid off and she can finally return to her hometown. Young-ok asks if Tae-joo doesn’t want to return to Seoul, and he replies feelingly, “I do. But I can’t seem to.”

The two end up commiserating and sharing (copious) drinks, although it seems to hit Tae-joo harder. Young-ok dreamily says that when she goes back home, she’s going to open her own dressmaking shop and points to her handmade scarf. Tae-joo can’t properly admire it as his head drops to the table, unconscious. Remnants of powder dot his shot glass.

Young-ok brings him back to a bare room, and Tae-joo catches glimpses as she arranges him on the bed, but isn’t strong enough to push her away. Intercut is a doctor looming over Tae-joo and asking him if he’s okay. It isn’t until morning that Dong-chul finds Tae-joo… handcuffed and half-naked.

At the station, Yong-ki leers at Tae-joo’s antics, and Na-young balefully slams a cup of coffee in front of him and stalks off, while Tae-joo hangs his head in shame. Tae-joo attempts to go after Na-young, but dizzily hears the doctor in the present time tell him the medicine they administered almost worked—if he gets any more, he should be able to wake up.

Meanwhile, Dong-chul was up to antics himself last night—but Nam-shik astutely points out he got caught and kicked out by his wife. Galled, Dong-chul asks if Nam-shik has been stalking him, ha! Tae-joo tries to persuade Dong-chul to investigate Jung-man and relays what Young-ok told him last night.

Astounded that Tae-joo could still be this naive, Dong-chul yells that everything Young-ok said was probably just a lie to get Tae-joo naked—so that Jung-man could embarrass him by posting his nude pictures.

Glum, Tae-joo visits Young-ok, who doesn’t do a very good job of pulling off blasé as she tells Tae-joo that thanks to him all her debts are paid. Rather than get mad, Tae-joo simply tells Young-ok that she should go home and do something she likes doing—and drops a ferry ticket before her. Touched, Young-ok stares after Tae-joo as he leaves.

Outside, Tae-joo spies Dong-chul berating Jung-man for messing with one of his people. Jung-man cheerfully answers that Dong-chul should have kept his men in line then, but Dong-chul warns Jung-man that they aren’t friends and he’s getting very sick of him.

Still vexed, Na-young tosses a folder in front of Tae-joo and meaningfully tells him that she doesn’t have any right to ask about his personal life. Socially clueless Tae-joo doesn’t understand and lets her leave without explaining, but runs after her when she stumbles on her way out.

He comes to a stop in the hallway, at the sight of a casually dressed and un-made-up Young-ok. Smiling shyly, Young-ok tells Tae-joo that she’s going back home, and hands him the as-yet unprinted photographs of himself.

Tae-joo starts to apologize for how he behaved that night, making Young-ok gently tease that he’s so innocent. Nothing happened between them. Looking happier than she ever has, Young-ok thanks Tae-joo for what he has done and leaves.

Tae-joo slides a glance at Na-young, and catches her satisfied smile before she has time to cover it and walk away.

That night Dong-chul waits for Tae-joo outside his home, proffering a bag of food as penance, which Tae-joo rigidly refuses.

Dong-chul crowds his way inside anyway, though he isn’t much use to hard-working Tae-joo, as he sits eating chicken and dancing to pop on the TV. Tae-joo derisively says that Dong-chul really must be intimidated by Jung-man when he refuses to help, which riles up (the admittedly easily riled) Dong-chul.

Despite their bickering, the two fall asleep together. Tae-joo awakes to Na-young’s soft knocking (and literally steps on Dong-chul to get to her) but it’s a double dose of bad news—the inhaler only had Tae-joo’s prints on it and the forensics team has been pressured off working on the Jung-man case any more. Na-young sweetens the moment, though, as she apologizes to Tae-joo for misunderstanding him before she leaves. Aww.

Awake now, Tae-joo becomes aware that the TV is speaking to him again, but this time, it’s a doctor and nurse. Uh-oh, they’re saying that medication alone isn’t enough to bring Tae-joo out of his coma—and their recommendation is to give up on him. Tae-joo screams at the television that they can’t give up… and turns around to Dong-chul staring at him.

Dong-chul asks the crazy man in front of him what he thinks he’s doing, and answers the ringing phone, still considering Tae-joo.

Young-ok has been murdered. The two head down to the river, where Young-ok’s body has been pulled from the water.

Picking the absolutely worst moment, Yong-ki gloats that he knew this was going to happen all along, and laughs without any humor that Tae-joo must be really sad since he spent a night with the woman.

Bristling, Tae-joo shoves Yong-ki backwards and asks if he thinks this is funny. A person is dead. Deadly serious, Yong-ki retorts that he knows—and it was Tae-joo that killed her. Damn, that’s brutal.

Dispirited, Tae-joo asks Dong-chul if there’s finally enough to start an investigation. Dong-chul wearily tells Tae-joo that one of Yong-ki’s fellow graduates poked his nose in like Tae-joo’s doing, and now he’s working as a shoemaker because three of his fingers were cut off and his leg is lame. There’s no point investigating when the police can’t even get a warrant.

His tone forbidding, Tae-joo replies that they won’t need a warrant, and that maybe it’s time they fight fire with fire.

Energized by Tae-joo’s conviction, the team jumps into action, investigating the surrounding area of Young-ok’s murder for clues (finding a footprint), and enlisting young children to sneak away Jung-man’s bodyguards shoes for prints. They even manage to hold off a suspicious Kyung-se (just about) with another display of Na-young’s fighting prowess.

The team meet up at Tae-joo’s house for another covert meeting, which really seems like an excuse to hang out, and before they can really settle in, the war drill blares out and forces them to turn off all the lights.

Of course Dong-chul, Yong-ki and Nam-shik take this opportunity to fall asleep—and of course Tae-joo and Na-young stay up poring over documents by torchlight. They narrow it down to ten people and decide to get some rest, when Dong-chul sits bolt upright. He slams his fist down, and declares he knows who the footprint belongs to.

Which is how Dong-chul and Tae-joo end up huddled in a freezer interrogating one of Jung-man’s gang members tied to a chair in only his undergarments. Unrepentant about their necessarily unusual methods, Dong-chul moves to hit the truth from the thug, but Tae-joo stops him.

Instead, Tae-joo pours liquid all over the gang member and warns him that at this temperature, it will only take 15 minutes before he starts to lose feeling to frostbite. Tae-joo comments to an impressed Dong-chul that this way there is no evidence of police brutality.

The man holds out for a good ten minutes, while Dong-chul and Tae-joo chill (snerk) safely outside the freezer. But he finally breaks when Dong-chul merrily informs him that even his penis might need to be amputated if he stays in there any longer. Except the thug didn’t kill Young-ok at all—Jung-man strangled her himself with his bare hands.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo storm righteously into the middle of Jung-man’s hotel room, and it is very satisfying to see the smug look on Jung-man’s face get wiped off as the police inform him he is under arrest for the murder of Kim Young-ok. Even better, they find the gun that probably killed Dad in his room.

At the police station, Dong-chul gleefully lays out all the evidence they have, but Jung-man still thinks this is a joke and just says of course he was at the river—because he went night fishing there. As if to prove Jung-man’s good humor correct, an angry Kyung-se halts the interrogation.

Outside, Kyung-se warns Dong-chul that he was supposed to stay obedient, and orders him to let Jung-man free. Dong-chul triumphantly says that they have evidence to link Jung-man to Dad’s murder, but just then Na-young arrives and dismally informs the team that the gun Jung-man owns has never been fired.

Kyung-se tells the team they need to let Jung-man go free, but Dong-chul puts juuuust enough pressure on to give them one more hour. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that the rest of the team members turn their backs on Dong-chul as he manhandles Kyung-se to indicate they won’t step in.

An idea sparks in Tae-joo’s head. He goes back to the interrogation room and hands Jung-man a mug, sloppily spilling the liquid all over the table and Jung-man’s hands. Jung-man sniffs it suspiciously, and laughs that it’s alcohol—Tae-joo isn’t such an amateur that he thinks Jung-man will get drunken loose lips, is he?

Tae-joo asks Jung-man if he knows that Young-ok dreamed of becoming a designer—and in fact, made her own scarf. The scarf that Jung-man killed her with. Almost like he’s giving a lesson, Tae-joo states that Young-ok used a very particular dye—one that is difficult to wash off, doesn’t give off any color… but shows up black when combined with alcohol.

Tae-joo grabs Jung-man’s hands and slams them over. Black stains betray him. The team celebrates.

Hauled away in handcuffs, Jung-man calls back to Tae-joo, “You got me a great gift. I promise I’ll make it up to you.” Dong-chul, the rascal, rudely gestures back to Jung-man and sticks his tongue out at a frustrated Kyung-se. Oh, you.

But later, Na-young points out to Tae-joo that this means they still don’t know who killed Dad. Tae-joo purposefully says he will find out who did it.

Dong-chul slings an arm round Tae-joo’s shoulders, and asks if it’s time for them to go “home.” But when Dong-chul stops outside Tae-joo’s house, he says that he should go in alone, since Dong-chul’s wife is waiting for him tonight.

Earnest for once, Dong-chul asks Tae-joo to tell him when he’s sick since hiding it makes it worse, and promises not to tell anyone about his problems last time. Dong-chul says, “Sometimes life can be hard. I’m too ignorant to know what it’s called, though.” He tells Tae-joo he left something to make him feel better in his bedding.

Ha, it’s a blue magazine. Trust Dong-chul.

Feeling better, Tae-joo takes a walk, passing his Mom’s beauty salon as he does so. On it are scrawled ugly messages of “murderer” and “go home” but it’s a commotion out back that really draws Tae-joo’s attention. Two boys attack young Tae-joo, trying to claw away the stickers his dad left for him, while another young boy protects Tae-joo from their blows.

Adult Tae-joo steps in and sends the two bullies running. He smiles fondly as young Tae-joo and his friend messily devour the ice creams Tae-joo buys for them. Tae-joo’s friend jumps up to run home, and young Tae-joo calls after him, “Goodbye, Min-seok.”

Ohhh. Tae-joo realizes where serial killer Min-seok knew him from.

Adult Tae-joo races after Min-seok but can’t catch up with him. Min-seok runs up to an adult shrouded in darkness and hugs him…as the man raises an inhaler to his mouth and breathes deeply. The man stares down at Tae-joo, who is completely unaware of the danger and the answer he is looking for so close by.

COMMENTS

Well, Tae-joo did it. He has been integrating slowly, and he finally understands the team, and times, enough that he goes against his own rigid rules to get answers from Jung-man’s thug. And thankfully, this didn’t feel like a breaking of Tae-joo’s morals, just a slight bending. Tae-joo did try to accomplish it through legal means first, but the system was too corrupt to deliver any kind of justice that way, and Tae-joo recognized that. On the other hand, I firmly believe Tae-joo’s character is too honorable to allow corruption for anything less than the pursuit of justice and continue to act as the necessary conscience of the team. Its undeniable that 1988 is changing our Tae-joo though, and is going to make it very hard for him to go back.

It takes Tae-joo’s combination of fury, freshness, and focus to believe that there is a way that Jung-man’s outfit can be taken down. It’s clear that Dong-chul and Yong-ki might once have believed something similar, but they were disabused of the notion, so Dong-chul did what he could—he protected his team and stayed out of Jung-man’s way. The sheer look of delight on Dong-chul’s face when he realizes that Tae-joo might actually have a plan that would work to take down Jung-man was heart-warming. Dong-chul is a low-level, petty kind of corrupt with the beating heart of a true police officer. Yong-ki, as well, showed some true depth in this episode. His distasteful jokes and antagonism of Tae-joo gave way to sharp-edged truths, and it isn’t hard to believe that Yong-ki’s apparent apathy is actually defeatism in the face of too many crimes committed by too many people he can’t touch. Yong-ki still has a long way to go, but I saw the glimmer of a better man in this episode.

I still can’t quite figure out Kyung-se or his motives. He’s definitely corrupt, but worryingly, he also seems to know something about Tae-joo’s secrets. The question is, does he actually know anything, or has he just cannily intuited how badly Tae-joo wants to go home? Either way gives Kyung-se the means to manipulate Tae-joo, but the former would be so much worse given that I’m sure he isn’t benevolent and would try to stop Tae-joo for his own ends. Although the team managed to elude his grasp in this episode, Kyung-se is a menacing presence and I foresee him becoming a bigger problem now that the team have explicitly thwarted him. They may just have painted a target on their backs by doing the right thing.

I’d like to praise the pacing of this show, which so far has been impeccable and surprising. For example, I figured out a split second before it was revealed that young Tae-joo’s friend was actually Min-seok, and fully expected the show to string along adult Tae-joo’s discovery for another episode or two and dangling a frustrated audience. But they didn’t—the show immediately tipped its hand, propelling the action along nicely. The serial killer question has been expertly woven in from the beginning (which, I should note, was not an overarching theme in the original BBC series and a nice twist to give a grander narrative force to the story) and is now being threaded back in just as Tae-joo is really starting to fit in in 1988. The relationships in the team have evolved so naturally that I didn’t even question it when everyone came back for a group-hang at Tae-joo’s. The mystery is gathering pace now as well, with inhaler man and young Min-seok knowing each other and connecting to Tae-joo’s life in 2018. All in all, I’m glad that the mounting tension for our end-story has been judiciously doled out and the fast paced action has me excited each week to see this show.

Mystery of the episode: Who is the man with the inhaler? He’s definitely grooming young Min-seok into carrying on his serial killer lineage, right?

Tune of the episode: Dong-chul getting his groove on during bromance time with Tae-joo to Kim Wan-sun’s “The Dance in Rhythm” was adorable.

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57 July 18, 2018July 18, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 10

by Sunny

Everyone is forced to face some harsh truths this hour, but it’s a necessary growing pain in order to move forward. People are dropping like flies and if Tae-joo wants to stay alive, he’ll have to keep on his toes because if one thing’s for sure, he’s running out of time.

 
EPISODE 10 RECAP

After a quick recap of the entire Kim Min-seok mystery from Tae-joo’s first encounter in 2018 up until Tae-joo’s “present,” we see our favorite detective leaving work for the night. As he steps into the hallway, however, the lights begin to flicker and an eerie voice calls out to him.

The voice—identifying itself as Kim Min-seok—leads Tae-joo to a window that lights up like a screen to show 2018 Kim Min-seok, dressed as a doctor. As he leans over Tae-joo’s hospital bed, he remarks that the detective looks surprisingly well. Min-seok says he brought a gift and produces a tape recorder. When he presses play, ex-fiancée Seo-hyun’s voice screams for Tae-joo to save her.

Tae-joo runs towards the window, but the hallway warps and stretches, keeping him in the same spot. Smirking, Min-seok says there’s nothing Tae-joo can do—no matter what, he can’t come back. He walks away and the window reverts to normal glass. The lights flicker again and Tae-joo begins to choke, gasping for air. The hallway goes dark and suddenly, Tae-joo is lying on the floor of his room still struggling to breathe.

The television beside him shows his 2018 doctor and nurse rushing into his hospital room. Doc says Tae-joo is having a seizure and as he applies the defibrillator, Tae-joo’s body spasms. Between jolts, Tae-joo flashes back to the roof—when he was about to jump, thinking it would return him to 2018. He remembers Na-young had held his hand over her heart and said that whether he’s dreaming or traveled back in time, there’s a reason he’s here.

As he holds her hand in the vision, Tae-joo’s body finally relaxes.

That morning at work, Tae-joo calls around to elementary schools looking for young Kim Min-seok. After crossing paths with him the night before (when young Min-seok had rescued young Tae-joo from bullies), Tae-joo had attempted to ask his younger self about the other boy. Unfortunately, all little Tae-joo could do was confirm the other boy’s name.

Suddenly, Tae-joo’s ear begins to ring and blood trickles out. A bright light flashes and the TV clicks on to show Tae-joo’s doctor giving an interview. Doc starts by saying Tae-joo’s case is extremely rare. Tae-joo’s body has suffered severe damage and his prolonged coma is only making things worse. He continues that even if Tae-joo were to regain consciousness, his body wouldn’t be able to function properly—essentially, Tae-joo has no hope for recovery. Oh dear.

Doc’s voice overlaps itself, reiterating that Tae-joo is doomed and it would be better to pull the plug. With an anguished cry, Tae-joo throws a hand-radio at the TV and then nearly jumps out of his skin when a voice asks if he can hear the voices from such a distance.

A young man stands beside Tae-joo and warns him not to believe the voices—they lie. Blinking back, Tae-joo tentatively asks if the stranger heard everything. Nodding emphatically, the young man confirms he hears the voices all the time. He then reveals that he’s from 2018 and a stunned Tae-joo starts to say the same when the man holds up his hand. He warns Tae-joo that others might be listening… and then taps his ear, wondering if Tae-joo also has a wiretap.

The man continues that he has a wiretap in his ear and Tae-joo realizes that the stranger is not a fellow time-traveler—he’s just crazy. The rest of the team arrives and apparently the man is no stranger to the station. Turns out, he always shows up around the same time every year, escaping from the psychiatric hospital and causing a ruckus at the station.

The detectives are forced to chase him around the room, and eventually manage to tie him up. He refuses to leave before performing the E.T. finger touch with both Dong-chul and Tae-joo. Hee.

As he’s being escorted out, the mystery patient greets a young officer, seeming to recognize him. The officer quietly watches the man get dragged away before reporting to the team that a crime scene has been discovered.

Driving out to the countryside, Dong-chul comments that Tae-joo looks tired. Tae-joo says he didn’t sleep much, which Dong-chul takes to mean he made use of the dirty magazine Dong-chul had left him. Irritated, Tae-joo tells him to speed up, and Dong-chul leans out to yell at the tractor in front of them.

The schoolchildren catching a ride on the back of the tractor jeer at the detectives and Dong-chul good-naturedly teases them back. All’s well until one boy makes a rude gesture—one that Dong-chul is fond of using himself—and after a shocked beat, Dong-chul starts screaming at the kid to learn some manners. Hehe.

The pair finally arrives at the crime scene to find that they’re short-staffed, due to the Olympics. Na-young leads them over to a deep hole in the ground where a woman’s body had been discarded. She explains that a farmer found the corpse while working and Tae-joo notes that the body appears to have been dead for about a month. Unfortunately, there’s nothing more they can do until the forensic team arrives.

Sometime later, the forensic team turns up along with a crew of officers and the other two detectives in Dong-chul’s unit. The officers scour the fields for the victim’s belongings. Na-young finds a shoe, maknae detective Nam-shik a purse, and so on until they’ve located everything they could.

The victim’s ID says her name is Kim Bok-rye and she lives in the village. Tae-joo assumes she was murdered on her way home from the bus stop. He, Na-young, and Dong-chul head over to Bok-rye’s house and find it oddly void of any photographs but her own. In the bathtub, they find the charred remains of the missing photos.

Dumb luck leads them to the only surviving family photo when Dong-chul trips and spots it under a dresser. Tae-joo’s stomach drops when he looks at the picture and recognizes little Kim Min-seok staring up at him from between a man and Bok-rye. Adult Min-seok sneering at him in his hospital bed flashes across his mind along with Min-seok’s promise that Tae-joo will never return.

Tae-joo’s ear starts to ring again and he abruptly drops the photo to cradle it. Na-young and Dong-chul stare it him concernedly as Tae-joo’s nose beings to bleed. Excusing himself, Tae-joo stumbles into the bathroom. The ringing intensifies and he crashes around a bit before sliding to the floor as Min-seok’s chuckles echo in his mind.

Rejoining the others outside, Tae-joo assures Na-young that he’s okay and Dong-chul jokes again that Tae-joo overexerted himself with the dirty magazine. Whatever Tae-joo was about to retort is cut off by the arrival of Nam-shik.

The youngest detective tells them murder victim Bok-rye’s husband works on a fishing boat, but the couple divorced three months ago after a fight. Apparently, Bok-rye has a notoriously bad temper and didn’t get along with any of her neighbors either.

Tae-joo asks about the child, but no one’s seen him and they assume his father took him. Tae-joo asks about the boy’s school—surprising the other detectives by already knowing his name. Nam-shik is unsure but Na-young figures he likely attends the nearest elementary.

She and Tae-joo go to the school and confirm that Min-seok is a student. They also learn that his attendance is abysmal due to “illness,” and following a bad injury a few months prior, his mother had notified the school he’d be taking a long-term absence. The teacher adds that Min-seok didn’t get along with his classmates.

Outside, Na-young asks Tae-joo if this Kim Min-seok is the same one he’d had her look into—and had said was a serial killer. Tae-joo admits that he is, adding that Min-seok has something to do with why he’s here. “He’s my only clue to find my way back,” Tae-joo concludes, causing Na-young’s heart to sink.

Back at the station, Tae-joo and Dong-chul stare blankly at the murder board they’ve constructed for Bok-rye. Nam-shik runs in and announces the husband has been found, however, he has a clear alibi for the murder as he was on an overseas fishing trip until two days ago. Sighing, Dong-chul removes the husband’s picture from their suspects section.

Tae-joo still wants to speak with the husband, so Nam-shik leads him down to the docks. They find him drunk in a restaurant and Tae-joo questions him about Min-seok. The husband barks that he doesn’t know, or care—Min-seok isn’t his biological son anyway. The husband reveals that Bok-rye had adopted Min-seok solely for the benefits, but everything went wrong after taking him in.

Tae-joo joins Dong-chul at the morgue. Manager Park frets that with all the deaths in the area, he’s not safe. Skimming over the report, Tae-joo notes that Bok-rye suffered extensive injuries. Looking at the body, Tae-joo points out that she bled from her broken leg. Dong-chul innocently asks the significance of that observation, earning stunned looks from Tae-joo and Manager Park.

Manager Park explains that for the wound to bleed, it had to have been inflicted while the victim was alive. He continues that she was beaten to death with a metal bat, breaking and fracturing several bones in the process. The killing blow was a strike to the head and Manager Park bemoans a world where a robbery (as Bok-rye’s jewelry was missing) would warrant such a brutal beating.

The men return to find Na-young staring intently at the crime scene photos. She snaps out of it long enough to report that due to so much time passing, the forensic team was unable to find anything useful.

Detective Yong-ki adds that the bus driver remembers Bok-rye disembarked alone the last time he’d seen her. Unfortunately, that means there were no witnesses to her murder. Dong-chul notices Na-young staring at the photos again. He starts to send her to fetch some tea, but wants to know what’s caught her attention. Na-young finds something off with the photos and when everyone gathers around to look, Tae-joo announces that they need to return to the crime scene.

On the way, Tae-joo explains that one of Bok-rye’s socks is far filthier than the other, indicating that she’d still been trying to get away after her leg had been broken. Disturbingly, this would mean that the killer had drawn out her death, practically toying with her. The killer had planned this attack and waited for Bok-rye at the bus stop.

Na-young points out that the killer’s behavior suggests resentment or revenge, therefore robbery was never the motive—the true purpose was murder. The detectives fan out to search for anything they’d missed. Nam-shik takes the field, but only finds garbage. Meanwhile, Yong-ki and Dong-chul jam out to the radio.

Na-young and Tae-joo return to the hole the body was found in, and Na-young comments that moving the body here would’ve been difficult. Tae-joo agrees, thinking that the assailant must be familiar with the area. Back at the car, the other detectives are standing around chatting when Na-young suddenly calls out to them.

Rushing over, they find Na-young standing next to the hole which Tae-joo is kneeling in. He picks up a badge and hands it to Dong-chul, who recognizes the organization it belongs to. Tae-joo then holds out his hand for Dong-chul to pull him up, but Dong-chul just slaps a low-five and scurries off leaving him and Na-young to fend for themselves.

They must figure something out, because both are present when the team investigates the organization’s headquarters. The club representative confirms the badge belongs to a member of their branch, and Tae-joo requests a list. Yong-ki calls their attention to a photo hanging on a corkboard, having recognized one of the members as a junkie they’d arrested previously.

According to the club rep, the junkie, Yang Gil-soo, has apparently since cleaned up his act and dedicated his time to volunteering. He adds that Gil-soo also helps out with the daily bookkeeping, but didn’t show up today. Yong-ki leads the team to Gil-soo’s house, where they find the utilities have been cut for nonpayment.

Searching the house, Yong-ki finds a bundle of meth, while Nam-shik stumbles across Bok-rye’s missing earrings. A noise draws the team to the shed, where they find Gil-soo drugged out of his mind. He lashes out when Yong-ki approaches and it takes all four men to wrestle him to the ground. Yong-ki gets injured in the scuffle and faints when he sees the blood.

Gil-soo is brought to the interrogation room, but can’t answer any of Dong-chul or Tae-joo’s questions. Dong-chul barks that Gil-soo can’t even pay his bills, but somehow managed to buy meth. He accuses Gil-soo of robbing Bok-rye to fund his drug problem but Gil-soo continues to reply that he doesn’t remember. He does add that the meth just suddenly appeared two days ago.

Dong-chul’s patience has reached its limit and he lunges at Gil-soo. Tae-joo manages to hold him back, suggesting that they wait for Gil-soo to sober up before questioning him again. Yong-ki and Nam-shik return from getting Yong-ki’s head wound stitched up and Dong-chul puts the two in charge of Gil-soo while he and Tae-joo go out.

In the hall, Na-young informs them that she finished going through Bok-rye’s loan shark record book and that Gil-soo had borrowed 1,000,000 won (roughly 1,000 dollars). To date, he’s only returned a tenth of his debt. Dong-chul figures the loan was enough to buy three months worth of meth.

Tae-joo asks about Gil-soo’s whereabouts on the day Bok-rye died and while there had been a club event, Gil-soo was unaccounted for. Dong-chul thinks they have enough circumstantial evidence and tells Tae-joo to send Gil-soo’s statement to the prosecutor’s office as soon as he gets it. For now, though, Dong-chul wants Tae-joo to get himself checked at the hospital—he’s worried Tae-joo will faint sooner or later.

After Dong-chul leaves, Tae-joo turns to go back into the interrogation room, but Na-young stops him—she’s found the hospital where Kim Min-seok received treatment. They head over and although the doctor is out, the nurse at the desk hands over Min-seok’s medical records.

Flipping through, Na-young concludes that Min-seok had been repeatedly abused. Furthermore, Bok-rye’s injuries mirror Min-seok’s records. They realize Bok-rye was murdered in revenge for Min-seok and Tae-joo says they need to find him quickly.

They return to the station to find a commotion outside the interrogation room. Tae-joo pushes through the crowd of officers and sees Nam-shik sitting outside the door, nervously wringing his hands. Nam-shik springs to his feet when Tae-joo approaches and attempts to block him from entering the room.

Tae-joo pushes past and sees Yong-ki watching anxiously as a paramedic attempts to resuscitate Gil-soo. Alas, it’s too late and Gil-soo is dead. Tae-joo demands to know what happened, but neither detective will look him in the eye. He asks Yong-ki why there are bruises on Gil-soo’s face and the other detective leaves the room.

Pausing only to shoot a glare at Nam-shik that causes the young man to flinch, Tae-joo follows Yong-ki out into the hall. He demands for Yong-ki admit whether or not he hit Gil-soo and Yong-ki shouts defensively that he smacked the guy around a bit, but it can happen in an investigation. Tae-joo barks that a person has died and Yong-ki throws back that there’s nothing he can do about it now. He sobers, however, when Dong-chul walks up.

Rejoining the others in the interrogation room, Dong-chul calmly asks what happened, demanding the truth when Yong-ki stumbles over his words. Before he can answer, however, Chief Kim walks in. He then proceeds to berate the team, ignoring Dong-chul’s insistence that he’ll take care of the issue himself.

The reprimanding escalates until Chief Kim smacks Nam-shik across the face, and then Yong-ki. Angrily, he wonders if they’re cops or bullies and reels back to hit them again, only for Dong-chul to grab his arm and pin it behind his back. Crying out in pain, Chief Kim barks at Dong-chul to let him go, but Dong-chul calmly repeats that he’ll take care of his team.

“Even if I get disciplined or fired, it’s none of your business,” Dong-chul snaps, “How dare you hit my subordinates, you arrogant jerk!” He releases Chief Kim and tells him to get lost. Glaring daggers, Chief Kim scoffs that he’ll be watching how Dong-chul deals with this before stomping out of the room.

Dong-chul demands to know how Gil-soo could suddenly die of a heart attack when he was perfectly fine earlier. Tae-joo points out that his drug addiction could’ve weakened his heart to the point that even a minor shock would’ve killed him. Yong-ki defensively shouts that he couldn’t have known that, but Dong-chul tells him to shut up.

Finally, Yong-ki admits that Nam-shik didn’t do anything wrong—it’s his fault. Nam-shik snivels that he’s also responsible but Dong-chul doesn’t want to hear apologies right now. Instead, he sends Na-young to call Manager Park and they lock the interrogation room while they wait for him to arrive.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo look in on Yong-ki’s guilt-ridden form, hunched over his desk as he smokes a cigarette. With a sigh, Dong-chul goes in to comfort him while Tae-joo heads off to find Nam-shik. The youngest detective is sobbing alone in the darkened hallway and Tae-joo sits next to him. Nam-shik whimpers that he’s sorry—he only wanted to get a confession and show Tae-joo that he and Yong-ki were capable.

Tae-joo gently tells him that while the investigation is important, that doesn’t justify illegal acts. Nam-shik apologizes again, but Tae-joo says he should be saying that to Gil-soo’s family, instead. Nam-shik promises to do so and Na-young appears to fetch them—Manager Park has arrived.

Manager Park examines the body and confirms cause of death to be a heart attack. He asks Yong-ki to explain what happened when Gil-soo died. Turns out, Gil-soo didn’t die from the beating but from a forced drug overdose. Everyone shoots a look at Yong-ki and he adamantly denies involvement.

Tae-joo wants to know if they’d ever left Gil-soo alone, and Yong-ki admits that there were a few minutes after Gil-soo fainted when he’d gone out to call for an ambulance. Tae-joo declares that to be the killer’s window and Dong-chul asks if they were recording the interrogation. Nam-shik confirms he’d been trying to emulate Tae-joo and had indeed turned on the recorder.

Realizing the recorder probably captured what happened in the room when Yong-ki left to call for help, the team searches for the device. Nam-shik had left it on the table, but when Yong-ki had scuffled with Gil-soo, it had gone flying. Na-young finds it in a corner and everyone gathers around to listen.

The tape starts with Nam-shik stating their names, date, and the purpose of the recording. Yong-ki had quickly grown irritated and sent Nam-shik out of the room to keep watch. Nam-shik confirms this now to Dong-chul and they continue listening. The tape reveals that Yong-ki had then begun his investigation, but it soon devolved into a beating—more than he’d admitted to Dong-chul earlier.

Suddenly, Gil-soo had begun gasping for air and Yong-ki is heard rushing out of the room to get the ambulance, which he confirms to the team. They continue listening and after a prolonged silence, footsteps are heard entering the room. A voice tells Gil-soo that he hadn’t intended for things to turn out this way, but in order for him and Min-seok to be happy, Gil-soo has to die.

We see that gloved hands had then dumped the entire contents of the package of meth (that had been recovered from Gil-soo’s house) into the addict’s mouth. He seized briefly and then fell still, while the killer pulled out an inhaler and took a puff. From the floor, the killer then picked up an officer’s hat. As he places it on his head, we see that it’s the same officer from earlier in the episode (the one the mental patient had recognized).

Tae-joo replays the recorder and recognizes the sound of an inhaler being used, immediately linking it to the inhaler found where his father was murdered—thereby connecting all the deaths (Dad, Dad’s girlfriend, Go Yeong-suk, Min-seok’s adopted mother, Kim Bok-rye, and finally, drug addict Yang Gil-soo) to one killer. Na-young wonders how the killer managed to get into the interrogation room and Nam-shik agrees, since they were only gone for ten minutes.

“He was watching us,” Tae-joo declares, “He’s close to us.” He rushes out of the room and into the main part of the police station. Scanning the crowd, Tae-joo doesn’t even register the killer officer cheerfully saluting him as he walks past. What’s more, he walks away just as little Min-seok runs into the station and calls out “Hyung!” He happily runs up to the killer and they laugh together as they leave the station, hand-in-hand.

 
COMMENTS

Ooof! So close! Now Tae-joo knows the serial killer is close by, but as Officer Psycho demonstrated with that cheeky salute, it doesn’t make a difference if he doesn’t know who he’s looking for… and this guy is going to be a hard one to catch. He’s already killed four people (as far as we know) and has a knack for blending in. And while I can understand his motivations for killing the two we saw this episode, what was his reason for Dad and Go Yeong-suk? Was he really just following CEO Oh’s orders? Or does he have another agenda entirely? And what does this mean going forward?

Fun fact, when Dong-chul is listening to the radio (instead of helping the other detectives look for clues), they’re listening to Jo Yong-pil’s “Mona Lisa” and Dong-chul declares that the singer will still be active in his seventies. Yong-ki scoffs, but joke’s on him because Jo Yong-pil is one of Korea’s most influential music artists and is still active today. Hehehe.

This wasn’t an easy hour for any member of the team. Tae-joo is still struggling with his dual timelines. The doc said that even if he wakes up, he’ll never be the same. Meanwhile, his episodes are escalating and it would seem he’s running out of time. Na-young was reminded that Tae-joo didn’t come here by choice and regardless of whether she believes he’s a time-traveler or not, he’s made it clear that he intends to return home. Yong-ki and Nam-shik had a huge scare with Gil-soo’s death and all I can hope is that they learn from it, particularly Yong-ki. He dodged a bullet by not being the one actually responsible for the death, but I hope this serves as a wake-up call that he needs to rethink his methods. He’s learned some really bad habits along the way and while it’s not entirely his fault (rather a side-effect of a corrupt system at work) he still nearly made an irreversible mistake.

On the other hand, Nam-shik was heartbreaking. He really respects Tae-joo and wanted nothing more than to prove his and Yong-ki’s worth. It’s hard to compete with a golden trio like Dong-chul, Tae-joo, and Na-young so I can understand why he and Yong-ki feel a little left out. Hopefully everyone can learn from this and find a way to come together as a solid team. They need to have each other’s backs with a serial killer in their midst.

 
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43 July 23, 2018July 23, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 11

by Helcat

The team is getting closer to the killer and Tae-joo is getting closer to the truth of his childhood. But there’s a fox among the chickens, and it will take a sly wit to lure him out of hiding. Between Tae-joo’s coldblooded whistleblowing and a loose cannon in the way though, the rising tension on the team might just be the opportunity for the killer to get away. Let’s hope our trusty (enough) detectives can make up in time before bad goes to worse.

 
EPISODE 11 RECAP

A subdued parade of police officers watches as murder victim Gil-soo is carried out of the morgue. Head detective Kyung-se pointedly stops the procession before Yong-ki on their way out, his head low. Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to let him take care of this, since a prime suspect has now been killed.

Kyung-se has other plans though, and doesn’t trust Dong-chul to write the report on what happened here today. He is satisfied when Tae-joo volunteers instead, but from the tight look on Dong-chul’s face and Yong-ki’s downcast one, the rest of the team isn’t too happy about this.

What to include in the report about Yong-ki’s actions weighs heavily on Tae-joo’s mind, but a phone call (that goes noticeably unanswered by the rest of the team) interrupts his decision. The mysterious voice on the other end greets Tae-joo by name, and tells him he understands that Tae-joo must be having a hard time.

But, the voice adds, “The mission has to be accomplished.” He refuses to tell Tae-joo who he is, and warns, “The problem lies inside. If you find a solution to that, you will be able to come back home.” He hangs up.

Tae-joo repeats to himself that the problem lies inside… and turns to study each of his unsuspecting team members with new eyes.

The ever diligent Na-young finds a quiet corner to listen to the recording of the last minutes of Gil-soo’s life (with a side of re-enacting his death throes) and tells Tae-joo that she thinks the killer actually knew Gil-soo.

Brainstorming together, Na-young and Tae-joo figure out that due to the precise timing, the killer must have been waiting for Gil-soo to be arrested and known the police process beforehand. And even though the killer would have had to walk through a crowded hallway, no one thought he was a suspect. Which can mean only one thing—the killer works inside the police station.

Ruthless in his pursuit of the truth, Tae-joo interrogates each of his team members, starting with an irate Dong-chul. Tae-joo promises to check up on his alibi, before moving on to Yong-ki and a visibly tense Nam-shik. Tone hard, Tae-joo asks why it took so long for Yong-ki to come back to the room, and accuses him of communicating with the killer.

Dong-chul has had enough. He stops the interrogation, and orders Yong-ki outside with the now-crying Nam-shik. And then he shocks Tae-joo by telling him that of course he knows the suspect works inside the police station. He has been working as a police officer for twenty years, after all, and knows when to trust his instincts.

But that doesn’t mean he can stand silently by as Tae-joo treats Yong-ki and Nam-shik like criminals. Tae-joo doesn’t back down, and tells Dong-chul that since Na-young was at the hospital and his alibi checked out, Nam-shik and Yong-ki are prime suspects right now. Tae-joo doesn’t even back down when a furious Dong-chul yells that he raised those two, and knows they wouldn’t do this.

Instead, Tae-joo stresses, they must first get rid of their suspicions. Because the killer is counting on dissension in the ranks to manipulate the situation. Tae-joo unbends slightly as he asks Dong-chul genuinely whether he would prefer him to stop. Backed into a corner, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that the alternative is worse—because if Kyung-se leads the investigation, he will just arrest anyone to close the case.

Tae-joo finishes his report. The mood is somber as the team tensely watches Tae-joo hand it over to Kyung-se. None of them knows what it contains.

In the meantime, Tae-joo and Na-young return to investigating Kim Bok-rye’s murder, now without Yong-ki or Nam-shik who have been removed from the case. Going over what they know so far—that Bok-rye abused Min-seok for a long time, and her injuries matched those inflicted upon him by her—they theorize that she may have been killed in revenge.

Further than that, nearly all the murders have had clear motive—Gil-soo was murdered to cover Bok-rye’s death and Dad was killed as the witness to Go Yeong-seok’s murder. Which means that Yeong-suk must have been killed for a reason too, although Tae-joo adds that her death was more than that. The killer enjoyed watching her die a slow death. The reason was a very personal one.

Yong-ki storms into the station and throws a balled-up piece of paper at Tae-joo’s head, asking what he put into the report. Whatever it was, it has resulted in Yong-ki being kicked off the force, and Nam-shik suspended. Unrelenting in the face of Yong-ki’s fury, Tae-joo states that he just wrote the truth.

Which nearly turns the encounter into a brawl, in front of a rapt audience. Only when Dong-chul steps in does the tension simmer down.

Dong-chul orders Nam-shik and the recalcitrant Yong-ki to take a few days off while the mess is resolved. Dong-chul turns to Tae-joo and tells him the Bok-rye case is closed since the suspect has been killed.

Tae-joo stutters in disbelief, and asks what this means about Dad and Yeong-suk’s murders since he is convinced they were committed by the same person. Dong-chul spits back that he’s the only one who thinks that, and punches the murder board in exasperation as he walks away.

One police officer in particular watches the public scene unfold with interest—and smirks.

Dispirited, Tae-joo has to listen to two police officers grumble that he’s just messing everything up. Even his relationship with Na-young is strained now as she quietly tells him the form she is holding is a petition against Yong-ki’s punishment. Dong-chul scorns that Tae-joo doesn’t even care that one of his fellow officers is being fired.

His pariah status cemented, Tae-joo looks glum. The same officer from before spies the interaction, and introduces himself to Tae-joo as Lee Soon-ho. Soon-ho tells Tae-joo that he supports what Tae-joo did, so he shouldn’t be too discouraged.

Na-young is definitely disappointed with Tae-joo. She gently requests that Tae-joo tell Kyung-se it was an accident, pleading Yong-ki’s case for him. When Tae-joo repeats his old line that he just presented the facts, Na-young corrects him, “The truth is more important than the facts sometimes.”

A seemingly nonchalant Dong-chul (who has actually been listening keenly the entire time) catches Tae-joo’s eye meaningfully.

Trying to clear his head, Tae-joo stops by Mom’s beauty salon to scrub away the nasty accusations people graffitied on her wall. Mom comes out, surprised and slightly embarrassed to find Tae-joo doing such menial work for her.

But Tae-joo came over for a reason beyond scrubbing walls. Yearning for comfort, the question slips out unbidden as he asks Mom, “Am I doing a good job?” Mom didn’t quite hear though, and Tae-joo covers by presenting her with bananas for young Tae-joo.

Back at the bar, Tae-joo drinks alone. Dong-chul and Yong-ki come in, and although Yong-ki is less than pleased to see Tae-joo, Dong-chul orders Tae-joo to quit pretending to be sad and join them. He walks over, eyeballing Yong-ki in a challenge and tells him he has something to say. Yong-ki sneers that he should go tell it to the moon and starts to walk away.

When Tae-joo tries to stop him, Yong-ki hits him right in the face. Even though it hasn’t gone well, Dong-chul smiles as if he’s pleased.

With nowhere else to go, Tae-joo goes back to work at the station. Na-young finds him there, and Tae-joo brightens immediately with hope. She hands over the list of calls—the mysterious phone call from earlier came from Seoul, though Tae-joo waves it off as a prank.

About to leave, Na-young changes her mind and offers to help Tae-joo with the case instead. She clarifies that she’s only doing this to help Yong-ki, but Tae-joo accepts anyway. A tiny smile crosses his face.

As they comb through police files to find clues to who the killer could be, Tae-joo realizes that the officer must have been there the day that Dad was at the station. This narrows the pool of suspects down to twenty-five, although Lee Soon-ho is conspicuously not a part of that pile.

Tae-joo warily dials the number for the mysterious caller, and isn’t reassured as the voice refuses to answer who he is, and tells him never to call here again. Apparently, Tae-joo should “know the rules.” The voice warns him not to let the killer suspect Tae-joo or something bad will happen, and hangs up after telling Tae-joo he’ll call back sometime.

The following day, Na-young calls Tae-joo over to talk with Lee Soon-ho, the officer tasked with finding Min-seok’s orphanage. Tae-joo notices Soon-ho’s twitchy fingers, but is distracted by a brainwave as to where the killer may be hiding—as he flashes back to his pursuit of Min-seok in 2018 and the suspicious building that caught his eye in “Sung Il-ro 42-7.”

There is no such place in Insung, but Soon-ho looks distinctly concerned as Tae-joo describes the two-story house with the cross on the garage door.

Na-young is back to smiling at Tae-joo, which melts my heart as much as it must melt his. A shaken Nam-shik is back at the office, looking chastened, although Dong-chul gruffly tells him that he shouldn’t feel guilty that Yong-ki was fired while he was only suspended.

In a stomach-sinking turn of events, Tae-joo realizes that the tape of Gil-soo’s murder has disappeared. Frantic, Tae-joo and Dong-chul search for one of the only pieces of evidence left to tie the murderer to Gil-soo’s death.

A commotion outside stops the hunt, as Yong-ki drunkenly causes a ruckus. The two are connected as well, as Yong-ki maliciously holds up the missing tape. He slurs that he isn’t the only cop to beat a prisoner, and he has paid too highly for his mistake. When Nam-shik tries to calm him down, Yong-ki punches him.

To Tae-joo and Dong-chul’s dismay, Yong-ki reveals in front of the crowd that Gil-soo’s last moments with the murderer are on the tape. Dong-chul tries to order Yong-ki to give the tape back, eventually pushed into declaring that the tape is more important than Yong-ki’s career. Betrayed, Yong-ki runs off shouting that he won’t die alone.

Tae-joo, Dong-chul and Nam-shik creep along after Yong-ki in the car—when Dong-chul breaks out in a big grin and compliments Yong-ki’s acting skills. It was a fake-out!

We flash back to the night that Yong-ki punched Tae-joo. Tae-joo had gone after him and offered, “Keep punching me until your anger melts away.” They came up with the plan together, with Dong-chul, to lure out the real culprit. Poor Nam-shik and his bloody nose was just collateral damage.

Back to the (1988) present, Yong-ki signals with his hand and the team pulls to a stop. They wait as Yong-ki “stumbles” down an alleyway, but start to get nervous as time passes and he doesn’t come out or answer his radio. Making their way to him, Yong-ki’s hoarse voice calls out down the radio. He sounds hurt.

The three officers race to find Yong-ki collapsed on the ground with a bloody head, caught unawares by the culprit. Yong-ki didn’t see his face (though we see it is Soon-ho), but did stab him in the side with a piece of broken glass after he took the incriminating tape from Yong-ki.

While Dong-chul affectionately pats Yong-ki for a job well done (hurting him even more, oops), Tae-joo chases after Soon-ho. Despite Soon-ho’s wound, he manages to give Tae-joo the slip in the crowded streets.

Yong-ki will be fine, though Nam-shik still fusses cutely over him as Dr. Park fixes him up. Unfortunately, Soon-ho was smart enough to use gloves so the weapon he used to hit Yong-ki with won’t yield any clues.

Nam-shik wails that he must find the culprit, since Yong-ki is unlikely to get married now that he’s in this state (lol). Yong-ki grumbles that it sounds like an insult, but he’s touched anyway.

Tae-joo is forced to admit that the culprit got away, and must have realized by now that the tape was a fake. He reassures a needlessly ashamed Yong-ki that he shouldn’t feel guilty for not catching the culprit since he obtained the necessary evidence (blood on the glass) to find out who it is.

Haha, and then Dong-chul tries to wish Yong-ki a speedy recovery and awkwardly give him a hug. Yong-ki rebuffs his effort, and Dong-chul backs off, abashed. Not quite finished, Dong-chul shoos Tae-joo towards Yong-ki. Tae-joo and Yong-ki’s hands waver, as if reaching for the other. Aaaaand Tae-joo chickens out and runs off. Yong-ki huffs that he knew Tae-joo would be like that. I’m dying here.

Tae-joo and Dong-chul agree to call over all the suspects still left, figuring that whoever doesn’t show up must be the culprit. But all seventeen do show up. Even after Dong-chul goes a little mad, ordering everyone’s shirts off to check for chest wounds, it’s clear that the culprit isn’t here.

So they have to go through the list of men, checking everyone’s story instead. One man tries to sneak off, saying that it’s his shift on guard, and his reluctance to stay in the room sparks Dong-chul’s suspicions. Dong-chul finally winkles it out of the man that he wasn’t actually on duty the day he said he was—Lee Soon-ho took that shift instead.

Tae-joo recognizes the name, and realizes it was the man who encouraged him from before. The blood results come back in and Dong-chul excitedly exclaims the culprit is type B—just like Soon-ho is.

Dong-chul brusquely hands the phone over to Tae-joo (because he understands science speak) because the blood results also found streptococcus in his blood. Streptococcus, which can cause pneumonia and asthma. They’ve found their guy.

Tae-joo puts all the pieces together now—Soon-ho’s shaking hand, to the day Dad was shot and we see the killer raise his head, and the man who found young Tae-joo in the tunnels—it was actually Soon-ho. That’s a lot of threads tied together.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo briskly search the station for Soon-ho, and rush over to his house to find him… and he never actually lived there. “Soon-ho” stole the real Soon-ho’s identity to apply to the police force, knowing he would be accepted immediately due to his credentials. Smart. And infuriating.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo trawl through Soon-ho’s case files to try and find a clue where to find him. Turns out Soon-ho became a cop to look for a kid—and in an unnerving coincidence, he transferred to Insung on the exact date that Tae-joo did.

Nam-shik rushes in, flustered because he has learned that Na-young was the last person to talk to Soon-ho before he left work. Which reminds Tae-joo that he was going to meet her at City Hall at six o’clock, a plan that Soon-ho had definitely overheard.

Tae-joo prepares to go, but Dong-chul points out it’s already past seven o’clock. Tae-joo didn’t turn his clock forward for daylight savings time, because it’s no longer observed in modern South Korea (it was actually abolished just after 1988). Uh-oh.

The team races over to City Hall, hoping to catch Na-young in spite of the late hour. When they arrive though, it’s clear they are too late—a crowd has gathered round, the police files are strewn on the desk… and Na-young’s purse lies abandoned on the floor.

Tae-joo carefully picks up Na-young’s police notebook, her fastidious notes on Sung Il-ro covering the last page. Tae-joo remembers what the mysterious voice warned him of—if Tae-joo moved too rashly, it would only make the problem worse.

Oh, if only Tae-joo had met Na-young on time—she and Soon-ho didn’t disappear until 7:10 p.m. The security guard was taking a break as well, and didn’t see where the two went. Dong-chul despairs that there are no witnesses, and figures that Soon-ho must have used a car to get away so cleanly. He orders Nam-shik to set up car checkpoints across Insung.

Dong-chul finds a cloth handkerchief covered in chloroform, which they deduce must have been used to subdue Na-young. Even then, she struggled, and as Soon-ho dragged her away, one of her shoes came off.

Tae-joo blames himself putting Na-young in danger, haunted by the eerie similarity to ex-fiancée Jung Seo-hyun’s abduction in 2018. Cold rage in his eyes, Tae-joo vows, “It’s the same as last time. But this time, I’m going to find him no matter what happens.”

It’s an almost complete re-enactment of Seo-hyun’s abduction, as Tae-joo is convinced that the house on the hill is where Na-young is being kept. Tae-joo determinedly runs through the streets trying to find the garage with the cross on the door. As he gets closer and closer to the place, Tae-joo’s eyes blur and images of chasing adult Min-seok in 2018 run through his mind. Tae-joo weakens against the wall… It’s deja-vu as he flashes back to the alley he was shot in.

 
COMMENTS

Nooo, not Na-young! Bring her back! Show, I am telling you right now, if anything happens to her sweet little face I’m going to be very cross with you.

As if all the anxiety I’m feeling for Na-young isn’t enough, on top of that I am totally bewildered. Does the neighborhood just look very similar to the one that Seo-hyun was taken to because “Soon-ho” has a type of house he likes? Or is it actually the same place that Seo-hyun was taken to, which is in Seoul? If it is, does that mean this is all a dream in Tae-joo’s mind that has manifested to work through his present-day problems?

Yet again, we have been given a tightly constructed mystery, with enough clues peppered throughout the series until now to point to the killer being a cop. It makes sense that the killer was able to evade the police so well when he had inside knowledge of their movements, and experience in the processes. Never mind the fact that “Soon-ho” was the one to find young Tae-joo in the tunnels, because he knew which way the boy had run as Dad chased him. It never crossed my mind when it happened, though looking back at it now, the show did actually take the time to linger on Soon-ho, so kudos to them.

I do have some slight niggles about this episode though. Tae-joo has been consistently fantastic at detective work, but in this episode he doesn’t suspect that Soon-ho might be a bit off when he comes forward to encourage Tae-joo while literally everyone else in the police station hates his guts—and he also discloses important information about the case in front of Soon-ho. I can hand wave this away a little because Tae-joo at that point doesn’t believe Soon-ho is one of the twenty-five cops suspected. But he didn’t know Soon-ho at all, he DID know there was a killer among their ranks, and he is normally such a rigidly by-the-book officer. Maybe I’m being harsh here, but Tae-joo brought these high expectations on himself by being so sharp normally—and damnit, I want Na-young back safe!

In a nice contrast to last week, Tae-joo is back to his old ways this episode. I do think his motivation was slightly different this time in that he wanted to keep the report away from the clearly corrupt Kyung-se to protect the team—but he still doggedly stuck to principles that could have ended badly for Yong-ki. Kyung-se wanted an easy fall-guy and Tae-joo handed Yong-ki to him on a platter. Tae-joo reverted to his default detached persona when writing the report on Yong-ki and Gil-soo, and I strongly suspect it’s because he let Dad’s death cloud his judgment. Tae-joo is so focused on catching Dad’s killer that all the soft edges he has recently developed have been sharpened again—and let’s face it, he never really liked Yong-ki anyway. With the mysterious Seoul caller’s warning a bug in his ear as well, it’s no wonder he turned on Yong-ki.

It was still somewhat disappointing though, and in no small part because it hurt to see the team and whole precinct ostracize him. Tae-joo has managed to build trust here, become a part of a proper team, which was never possible for him in 2018. Aaaand that’s why it affected Tae-joo so much that he had to go run to Mom for comfort (aww) when they shut their doors on him. The fact that Dong-chul, for the most part, was disappointed rather than explosively angry at Tae-joo (as he would have been in Episode 1) speaks volumes. And the soft but stubborn approbation from Na-young was rather gut-wrenching. Thankfully, he took to heart her sentiment that the truth is more important than facts, and just in time as well. It was actually pretty sweet that the team was so quick to forgive Tae-joo when he made it right. I even liked Yong-ki in this episode! Let’s have more hangout scenes please.

Mystery of the episode: How many tape recorders do you think they go through at this police station? They sure do seem to get broken a lot. Mostly by Dong-chul.

Tune of the episode: “The Two of Us” by Sanulrim played over the top of the bar meeting between Yong-ki and Tae-joo. It added a suitably melancholic note to Yong-ki’s total life breakdown.

 
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92 July 25, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 12

by Sunny

The search for Na-young is on and Tae-joo’s determination to find her is only enhanced by the feeling of past failure. Unfortunately, her kidnapper is more unpredictable and crafty than any other criminal Tae-joo has faced so far. With the clock ticking and no guarantees as to Na-young’s safety, it’s a good thing Tae-joo doesn’t have to do this alone.

 
EPISODE 12 RECAP

Distraught over discovering Na-young has been taken by the fake cop “Soon-ho,” Tae-joo frantically runs through the streets searching for the elusive door with a cross. Hours pass as Dong-chul drives him around to different neighborhoods, but Tae-joo can’t seem to find the street that haunts his nightmares. Flashbacks of the 2018 chase through the alleys follow him as he runs until he finally stops to catch his breath.

Dong-chul is dubious about Tae-joo’s door and asks where he saw it. Unfortunately, Tae-joo’s honest answer—“In 2018”—only confuses Dong-chul and he wonders if the younger detective is messing with him. Tae-joo is dead serious, however, and starts to panic that Na-young has already been missing for nine hours.

He turns to resume searching, but Dong-chul holds him back—Tae-joo is practically dead on his feet and they’re getting nowhere wandering aimlessly. Tae-joo is unwilling to stop, but Dong-chul is firm. He suggests that they return to the station and see if they checkpoints turned anything up. Unable to really argue, Tae-joo follows him reluctantly back to the car.

At the station, Tae-joo is setting up his crime board when Nam-shik arrives with bad news—the checkpoints haven’t found anything yet and there are no cars registered to the killer’s pseudonym “Lee Soon-ho.” To make matters worse, the killer still has his police-issued pistol and was recently provided bullets.

They’re interrupted by Yong-ki running in, his head still wrapped in bandages. Apparently, Nam-shik filled him in and he was too anxious to sit around and do nothing. While the others are talking, Tae-joo flips through Na-young’s notebook and finds the photo she’d taken of him tucked between the pages.

His determination refueled, Tae-joo returns to City Hall and asks to see what Na-young had been researching. The clerk reveals she’d had him compile documents on the district adjustment. He explains that due to recent land development, some changes are being made and Tae-joo has him print off another copy.

The document lists the names being considered for the new district and Seongil-dong (the area where the door bearing the cross was in 2018) is among them. Na-young is so smart! Tae-joo races outside just as Dong-chul pulls up. He says he knows where they need to go and the detectives speed away.

They arrive at the bridge (where Tae-joo was run over in 2018 right before he woke up in 1988) along with backup. Tae-joo tells the officers what they’re looking for and everyone splits up to search. Tae-joo retraces his steps from his chase with Kim Min-seok and is the first to find the door.

Tae-joo starts to radio it in, but thinks better of it and hops the wall instead. The front door is unlocked and it appears that no one is home. After a brief search, Tae-joo finds a door with an extra lock and smashes it with his radio. The door opens up to reveal Na-young, bound and unconscious on the floor.

Immediately radioing the rest of the team, Tae-joo rushes to her and begins to untie her wrists. Waking up, Na-young begins to scream until she realizes it’s Tae-joo, and then her shrieks dissolve into sobs. She cries that she was scared and Tae-joo hugs her tightly.

When Na-young has calmed down, Tae-joo guides her out of the room to find little Min-seok sitting on the stairs. They all stare at each other for an odd beat before Dong-chul bursts through the front door with the rest of their detective unit in tow. All three immediately ask if she’s okay and Na-young nods. Tae-joo continues to eye little Min-seok warily as the rest of the detectives fan out to investigate.

Later, Na-young sits outside, staring at her bare feet. Tae-joo brings her heels and sits down next to her. She assures him that she’s okay, but when she takes a drink of water he notices her nails have been painted red. Na-young explains that Min-seok did it and a brief flashback shows he had painted her nails while she lay bound on the floor. “Don’t be angry,” he’d told her, “I’ll make your nails pretty.”

Just then, fake “Soon-ho” had walked in and reminded Min-seok that he wasn’t supposed to be in Na-young’s room. He’d sent the boy to his room and as Min-seok walked away, he’d paused to stare back at Na-young. In the present, Min-seok looks up from the officer interviewing him and levels the same stare at Tae-joo. In his mind, Tae-joo hears 2018 Min-seok’s words.

Min-seok: “I remember now. The horrified frown on your face. Yes, that’s the face I remember.”

The other detectives join them and Nam-shik reports that the house belongs to a missionary who’d lived there with her husband until their son went missing five years ago. The couple left to search for their son but hasn’t been back seen since. Dong-chul sighs that they didn’t find anything inside the house and wonders where the killer disappeared to.

Na-young says that “Soon-ho” had been in a rush that morning to go somewhere and offers to ask Min-seok if he knows anything. The guys are concerned, but she insists that she’s fine and doesn’t feel comfortable sitting around when she can help.

Sitting down with Min-seok at the station, Na-young unwraps an ice cream for the boy and asks for his brother’s real name. Turns out they’re biological brothers and fake “Soon-ho” is actually Kim Hyun-seok. The boy says he also has an older sister named Kyung-ran but clams up when asked where she is.

Na-young asks instead if he knows where his brother went, but Min-seok only knows that Hyun-seok said he had some work left to do. His words unnerve the other detectives listening in. Finally, Na-young asks about the place Min-seok lived before ending up in the orphanage and he goes quiet. We don’t get to hear what he says.

Afterwards, the team wonders what Hyun-seok is planning. Na-young thinks Tae-joo was onto something when he said Hyun-seok’s first known victim, Go Yeong-suk, was key. Apparently, Na-young had asked him about it while being held captive. A flashback reveals she’d accused him of killing Go Yeong-suk, Dad, Min-seok’s adoptive mother, and the addict he’d pinned her murder on.

Smiling eerily, Hyun-seok had wondered why she wanted to know. Na-young had said that the only murder she couldn’t figure out a motive for was Go Yeong-suk. “She deserved it,” Hyun-seok had responded. Na-young had then told him that no one deserves to be murdered and Hyun-seok had flown into a rage, wrapping his hands around her throat. As he choked her, Hyun-seok had snarled that the world was a better place without Go Yeong-suk in it and warned Na-young to keep her mouth shut if she didn’t want to share Yeong-suk’s fate.

In the present, Na-young tells the detectives that Hyun-seok’s rage towards Go Yeong-suk was on a completely different level from the other victims. She says it was much more personal and Tae-joo declares that if they want to catch Hyun-seok, they’ll have to figure out his connection with Go Yeong-suk.

Tae-joo tells Na-young to look into Hyun-seok’s call records and Dong-chul sends Nam-shik and Yong-ki to dig up everything they can on Go Yeong-suk. He reminds them to avoid being caught by Chief Kim as technically they aren’t supposed to be working right now.

Dong-chul wonders what they should do about little Min-seok and Na-young says that since the orphanage won’t be able to collect him until tomorrow, they’ll have to look after the boy themselves for the time being. Na-young reveals that three years ago, Min-seok had been traveling to his grandparents’ home with his brother when they’d gotten separated somehow. That’s why he’d ended up in the orphanage.

Additionally, Na-young thinks that since Min-seok is reluctant to talk about his family, they likely left home because something bad happened. Dong-chul suggests that they try to find the boys’ hometown. Na-young says Min-seok had been found at Insung Station and he told her they’d walked along the tracks for three days.

Grabbing a map, Tae-joo figures out the area the boys must’ve started walking from. Na-young volunteers to call the local police stations for the brothers’ records and to ask for assistance. Dong-chul agrees they need to do everything they can. Looking up at little Min-seok sleeping in the next room, Dong-chul tells her to take the boy to the night duty room.

Shockingly, Tae-joo offers instead, and then stays to watch the boy sleep. Sometime later, Min-seok wakes up and asks if his brother has come yet. Tae-joo says no and Min-seok sits up, reaching out and holding his hand. Tae-joo looks down at their joined hands and Min-seok asks if he’s going to arrest Hyun-seok.

Min-seok says he heard the other officers saying his brother is a bad person, but swears that’s not true. Tae-joo stares at the boy coldly as Dad’s death replays in his mind. Tae-joo shifts his hand out of Min-seok’s grasp, but composes himself and tells the boy to get more sleep. Min-seok lies down and silently watches as Tae-joo stands and leaves.

Tae-joo and Na-young comb through Hyun-seok’s call records for the past few months. Most of the calls were to the police station and orphanages in Insung along with the town office when he was looking for Min-seok. However, he’d also called around to hospitals, hostess bars, inns and motels. Tae-joo also points out calls to the Hawaii Bar where Go Yeong-suk worked and the inn where she was killed.

It’s clear that Hyun-seok had been chasing Go Yeong-suk for a long time, but it still doesn’t tell them why. Dong-chul points out multiple calls made to the Hangbok Welfare Center while Na-young answers a call from another police station. Hanging up, she tells the others she’s found Hyun-seok and Min-seok’s home.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo drive out to meet the police captain who called them. He leads them to a house that’s been ravaged by fire. Apparently the owner—Hyun-seok and Min-seok’s dad—had lit a briquette in his room and died in the fire last year. The captain tells the detectives that the brothers’ dad wasn’t sane. After losing his hand in the Vietnam War, he’d come home to find that his wife had run off with a much younger man.

Unable to work, the man had passed his days drinking and fighting. The charred remains of multiple academic awards still hang on the walls and the captain reveals that Hyun-seok was very bright. He wasn’t able to attend school often because they couldn’t afford it, but had there been money he likely would’ve gone on to medical school.

Tae-joo picks up a photo of Hyun-seok, Min-seok, and a young woman. The captain says the woman is their sister, Kyung-ran. She’d worked tirelessly at a bar to support the family and did everything for them. Unfortunately, she’d fallen ill and eventually died just a few days before the fire.

The captain thinks the father likely lit the house on fire since he no longer had a source of income and laments that Kyung-ran didn’t run away with her brothers three years ago. He adds that the father seemingly suffered from some form of PTSD and whenever he heard sirens, he would beat his children. Tae-joo asks if anyone’s seen Hyun-seok recently and the captain says that the last time anyone had mentioned seeing him was the day of the fire… but she’s an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s so her statement wasn’t exactly reliable. Hmmm.

Dong-chul tries to talk to the potential witness anyway. Unfortunately, she just slaps him across the face. Tae-joo asks the captain about the brothers’ grandparents and learn they lived somewhere around Insung Station (where Min-seok had been found three years ago).

Following the captain back to his police station, Dong-chul calls around looking for the grandmother while Tae-joo flips through records. Something catches his eye and he shows Dong-chul the photos taken during the house fire investigation. The burn patterns reveal that the fire was started with an accelerant and not from a briquette—meaning the old woman was probably right about seeing Hyun-seok the day of the fire.

Dong-chul agrees that Hyun-seok likely returned home for his sister, but found her dead and set fire to the house… with his father inside. The thing that still confuses Tae-joo is how Hyun-seok had somehow been separated from Min-seok three years ago and then just disappeared until turning up at the police station the same day he did and starting his murder spree.

That night, Tae-joo lies on the floor of his home with case files scattered all around him. Chief Inspector is on the TV again and the old man guesses Tae-joo doesn’t even know what he’s looking for. Tae-joo confirms it and the TV man sighs that the case is muddled with personal feelings, so of course he’s lost.

Turning his head to look at the screen, Tae-joo asks what the old man means. “Officer Han. Are you trying to arrest the culprit?” the old man asks, “Or are you trying to seek revenge?” From Tae-joo’s silence, he guesses Tae-joo is seeking revenge. He suggests that Tae-joo just shoot Hyun-seok next time they meet… the way Hyun-seok had shot Dad.

Finally sitting up, Tae-joo says he’s not necessarily seeking revenge and the old man wonders if Tae-joo is feeling sympathy for Hyun-seok’s past. Tae-joo is unsure, but the old man barks at him that Hyun-seok’s a murderer. He sighs that Tae-joo is too soft and says Tae-joo will figure out what kind of person he is next time he sees Hyun-seok.

The next morning, Nam-shik reports that the brothers’ grandmother died three years ago and her house was wrecked. However, they catch a break when Yong-ki reveals that Go Yeong-suk worked as a nursing assistant two years ago… at Hangbok Welfare Center. Now the phone calls make sense and Dong-chul sends Nam-shik and Yong-ki to investigate.

A detective from a different unit comes in to relay that Chief Kim wants Dong-chul to head down to a crime scene immediately—a police officer’s been killed and he wants everyone at the scene. When they arrive, Dong-chul identifies the officer as a recipient of an award from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Tae-joo inspects the body and notes that the bruises match up with being beaten with a police baton. They question the officer’s coworker that was called to ID the body and he says the victim had been missing just over a week. The last time he was seen, the victim had been going to meet someone called “Pretty.”

The other police had thought perhaps it was a girl from a brothel, but couldn’t find anyone using that name. Dong-chul thinks the name sounds familiar and Tae-joo recalls the mental patient, Yong-soo, who had made a scene at the station recently. He remembers that when Young-soo had seen Hyun-seok, he’d recognized him and called him “Pretty.”

Yong-ki confirms that before the psychiatric hospital, Young-soo had been in Hangbok Welfare Center. Everything seems to point to one place so Dong-chul sends Yong-ki and Nam-shik ahead to Hangbok Welfare Center while he and Tae-joo make a quick stop at the psychiatric hospital.

Young-soo greets the detectives warmly and immediately identifies Hyun-seok as “Pretty” from a photograph. He says Hyun-seok was always nice to him, but freaks out and calls Go Yeong-suk a “bad wench” when Tae-joo holds up her photo. Young-soo tells the detectives she was abusive at the Welfare center—refusing to feed them and administering strange medication.

A flashback shows Go Yeong-suk screaming and hitting Young-soo before walking over to the next bed where Hyun-seok lies awake, but rendered immobile from the drugs. She wonders where they should start and then starts applying makeup to the young man, giggling when he glares up at her. She finishes by painting Hyun-seok’s nails red, a sadistic smile plastered across her face.

In the present, Tae-joo stares at Young-soo horror-stricken as the young man cowers against the wall. Afterwards, the detectives head over to the Hangbok Welfare Center only to find it blocked off by a line of guards. The guards refuse to let the detectives pass even after Dong-chul identifies himself, saying that he needs to come back with written permission from City Hall.

Despite the inevitable scuffle, the detectives are forced to return to the station empty-handed. Gathering round, Yong-ki explains that the Hangbok Welfare Center was, in actuality, more of a group home for vagrants. A few years back, Chief Bae Sang-moo had initiated an “environmental cleanup project” and won a commendation for it.

Tae-joo is fuzzy on the details so Nam-shik explains that in preparation for the Asian Games and 1988 Olympics, the government launched a major crackdown on vagrants. They would round up vagrants and send them to facilities and Chief Bae’s main hunting grounds were the terminal and Insung Station.

Tae-joo deduces that the reason Min-seok and Hyun-seok were separated at Insung Station was the crackdown. After walking for three days, Hyun-seok surely looked ragged and Chief Bae had assumed he was a vagrant, beaten him, and locked him up in the Hangbok Welfare Center. Meanwhile, Min-seok was carted off to the orphanage.

This explains the three-year gap. When Hyun-seok was finally released, he assumed the identity of Lee Soon-ho, who’d worked at the Welfare Center while serving with the Riot Police. The team dives back into Hyun-seok’s call records but are interrupted by the arrival of Chief Kim. After the team’s stint at the Welfare Center, he’d received a call from the mayor and he’s livid, to say the least.

He launches into a tirade, first at Nam-shik and Yong-ki (who aren’t supposed to be here) and then at the team as a whole. He shouts at them to stop wasting time pursuing frivolous things and just as he and Dong-chul are about to get physical, Na-young (who’s been on the phone the entire time) cries out that she knows Hyun-seok’s plan.

The last phone call Hyun-seok made was to the director of the Hangbok Welfare Center. Now Chief Kim cares and Dong-chul orders him to get backup over to the hotel where the director is attending a conference—Hyun-seok is going to try and kill the director.

The detectives arrive at the hotel and demand that the concierge take them to the director’s room. Once inside, however, they find out he’s already gone down to the sauna. The team quickly fans out to search for him and Tae-joo and Dong-chul see him seconds before spotting Kim Hyun-seok as well.

The director unwittingly walks towards Hyun-seok, and Tae-joo and Dong-chul start to move in when Chief Kim arrives and calls out to the director. His schmoozing forces Hyun-seok’s hand and realizing it’s now or never, he pulls his gun and shoots the director in the back. The room devolves into chaos and Dong-chul and Tae-joo run after Hyun-seok.

Tae-joo chases Hyun-seok to the roof, but by the time he gets there, Hyun-seok is gone and a security guard is dead in the parking lot. The director was luckier and he snarls at Chief Kim to catch Hyun-seok before driving away.

Nam-shik tells Tae-joo that another security guard saw Hyun-seok leave in a red car, but couldn’t catch the license plate number. It doesn’t matter, however, because the detectives quickly work out that he’s on his way to pick up his brother.

Dong-chul and Tae-joo arrive at the bridge and find the red car parked there, the hood still warm. Na-young arrives in a taxi, saying Kim Min-seok disappeared from the station and she thinks he came here as well. The three split up to search for the brothers and Tae-joo returns to the house. Just as he’s reaching for the door, someone shouts for Kim Hyun-seok to stay put and he races off.

The chase scene perfectly mirrors Tae-joo’s 2018 chase with Min-seok. Tae-joo even catches Hyun-seok and nearly manages to subdue him until Hyun-seok fires the gun. Fortunately, unlike the 2018 scenario, Tae-joo manages to twist his body out of the way just in time to avoid anything fatal. The gunshot alerts the others and they frantically run towards the source.

Hyun-seok points the gun at Tae-joo again, but Tae-joo tells him it’s all over. Hyun-seok says he hasn’t even begun and Tae-joo asks if he really wants to be separated from his brother again. He says Hyun-seok’s sister wouldn’t want that.

Hyun-seok snarls that Tae-joo doesn’t know anything, but before he can pull the trigger, little Min-seok calls out to him. He turns back to look and sirens begin to wail in the distance. Lowering the gun, Hyun-seok yells for Min-seok to wait for him—promising to come back for him soon.

Tae-joo tries to grab Hyun-seok as he runs past, but misses. However, he notices Hyun-seok’s inhaler abandoned on the ground and scoops it up before giving chase once more. They end up back on the bridge and Hyun-seok drops the gun as he collapses from an asthma attack. Tae-joo kicks the weapon aside and follows slowly behind the now crawling Hyun-seok.

Gasping for air, Hyun-seok reaches towards Tae-joo for his inhaler but Tae-joo glares down at him as memories of Dad flash through his mind. Hyun-seok continues to reach out and Tae-joo grips the inhaler tightly, replaying Dad’s death in his head… before tossing the inhaler to Hyun-seok.

“You’re an outstanding officer,” Hyun-seok wheezes when he can breathe again. He asks why Tae-joo is chasing him and his brother so fiercely, and guesses it has something to do with the phone call from Seoul. Tae-joo is stunned that he knows about it, but Hyun-seok says he’s the one who looked into it for him.

Tae-joo thinks back to the mysterious caller (the one who warned him not to act rashly) and grabs Hyun-seok, demanding to know who the caller is. Hyun-seok is surprised Tae-joo doesn’t know but takes the opportunity to pull a knife from his pants and stab Tae-joo in the gut. Stepping back, Hyun-seok muses that Tae-joo must not even know the reason he’s here.

Hyun-seok warns Tae-joo not to trust the mystery caller too much and starts to say something else, but someone suddenly shoots him in the back. The shooter is Chief Kim and he grins as Hyun-seok clutches the bridge railing. Min-seok runs up on the opposite side with the detective team in tow and cries out for his brother.

Hyun-seok hoists himself over the railing and Tae-joo dives for him. They both fall over the side but Tae-joo manages to grab Hyun-seok with one hand and hold onto the railing with the other. He demands that Hyun-seok tell him what he knows, but Hyun-seok only replies cryptically that he’ll find out soon.

“That person… will come to see you,” Hyun-seok says before letting go of Tae-joo’s hand and falling into the water. Tae-joo makes a split-second decision and lets go of the railing as well. As he hits the water, Dong-chul and the others can be heard screaming after him but are soon drowned out by the sound of a heart monitor flatlining.

 
COMMENTS

That was intense! So, are we headed back to 2018 or is the show still playing with us? Silly question, of course the show is playing with us. I mean, that whole conversation with Kim Hyun-seok at the end was so cryptic and bizarre. Why is Tae-joo here? If this is all a figment of his fragmented mind, then all the doublespeak makes a little more sense since every “person” Tae-joo meets is part of his subconscious. But if not… then I am at a total loss.

Who is the mystery caller and just why was Hyun-seok so tickled that Tae-joo didn’t know? And even more curious, why did Hyun-seok warn Tae-joo against him? Everyone who seems to know something about Tae-joo’s displacement tends to contradict one another. I feel like this is just a really crazy spin on Alice in Wonderland and trying to make sense of anything is a fool’s errand. With only two weeks left, perhaps I should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Which isn’t hard to do. Because despite my frustration at trying to untangle all the mystery threads, I do find this show very enjoyable. And I’m so thrilled Tae-joo was able to save Na-young so quickly. I was about to throw hands when she went missing because she is the heart and soul of the team and without her, there’s just a big gaping hole. And how sweet was it how happy everyone was to see her safe? They’ve all really come a long way from ordering her to wash their pants and bring them coffee.

From the start, the only person that I’ve disliked more than Yong-ki has been Chief Kim. I’ve always believed that Yong-ki, at least, would come around. And this week he and Tae-joo have come a long way together. However, I’ve always known Chief Kim was a political weasel. Yong-ki’s methods were wrong and his attitude left something to be desired, but he genuinely wants to help people. Chief Kim doesn’t give a rat’s behind what happens to anyone else, so long as he comes out smelling like daisies. Bad as it is, I wish the bullet Hyun-seok shot in the sauna had clipped him as well. Because while murder is wrong and Hyun-seok is no doubt a criminal, I don’t think he deserves to be killed—especially by a self-serving jerk like Chief Kim.

In truth, I feel for the Kim brothers. Those boys have been dealt a nasty hand and it’s just been the horrible gift that keeps on giving. After all they’ve been through, it’s really no wonder they turned out crazy. I had been hoping for a complex backstory, but I hadn’t been expecting it to tug at my heartstrings. Maybe I’m too sympathetic or optimistic, but is it too much to hope Tae-joo could somehow save those boys? Now that would make for an interesting plot twist.

 
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43 July 30, 2018July 30, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 13

by Helcat

What happens when you are torn between loyalty to the job and loyalty to your team? Tae-joo must tackle the toughest decision he’s ever had to make—trusting someone completely in the face of mourning evidence otherwise. But Kang Dong-chul inspires that trust when he asks so much of others, and gives so much of himself. Unfortunately, the “team” is no longer a team in anything but feeling, as they are broken up and cast across different departments. They will have to move about in secret to help their beloved captain in the manhunt that ensues.

 
EPISODE 13 RECAP

Tae-joo plummets into the water, and is knocked half-unconscious. From 2018, Tae-joo can hear his doctor say his vitals are crashing as he is going into shock. Ex-fiancee Seo-hyun desperately asks for Tae-joo to wake up…

…And he does, but he’s still in 1988. The team gathers ’round, worry etched into their faces, but Tae-joo only has eyes for Hyun-seok. Hyun-seok lies off to the side—he is dripping wet, and no longer alive. Min-seok’s wails puncture the air as he runs upon the scene of his dead brother.

Feeling impotent, Tae-joo asks his TV why it has gone quiet now. His demands get louder, but the TV remains static.

Tae-joo turns to Mom next, but even here there is no comfort because she has closed the salon for business and the house is empty. Tae-joo stares down at a picture of his family with his father and asks, “Everyone left, but why am I still here?”

Tae-joo cannot dispel the thought of Hyun-seok from his mind, his warning that the mysterious man from Seoul will call him ringing loud. Tae-joo’s phone call goes unanswered when he tries to reach the caller though.

Overwhelmed, Tae-joo stands up and his eyes begin to blur, his head hurting. Only Na-young’s touch brings Tae-joo back with a thud, and he grips her hand tightly. Worried, Na-young gently scolds Tae-joo for working too hard, but Tae-joo abruptly answers that he still has work to do on the case even if he doesn’t quite know what he’s looking for.

In contrast to Tae-joo’s glum mood, Dong-chul, Yong-ki, and Nam-shik are all in high spirits as they prance into the office. Yong-ki is sure that his probation will be ended due to his contributions to this case, and Nam-shik happily asks whether they should go for a team dinner tonight at karaoke. Dong-chul’s antics even manage to draw a smile from Tae-joo.

Which is chased away as soon as the preening Kyung-se steps into the station, ready to accept the cheering police and their congratulations. His grapes very sour indeed, Dong-chul sneers that they should just leave Kyung-se alone… womp womp, Yong-ki and Nam-shik fall over themselves to congratulate Kyung-se.

Dong-chul is happy enough though, as he wheedles payment for a staff dinner from Kyung-se in exchange for all the hard work they did on the case. But Dong-chul’s grin falls from his face when Kyung-se smirks that this may be their last team dinner after all.

An official order has been handed down to Kyung-se to disband the team, and place them in different sub-divisions. Kyung-se snidely promises to transfer Na-young to a better division. As if he hasn’t said enough, Kyung-se cheerily tells Dong-chul he should be thankful for the opportunity to get rid of the two troublemakers that put him in this place.

Incensed, Dong-chul punches Kyung-se in the face, and yells “These guys aren’t objects or trash you can get rid of.” The team has to pull him away as Dong-chul goes in for another attack.

The only thing left to do is to go get drunk at the bar, where the mood is a bitter one instead of jubilant. Dong-chul has gotten quite outrageously drunk, and although he insists he’s fine to Tae-joo, Tae-joo swipes his car keys to prevent him from driving.

Dong-chul ineffectually punches in Tae-joo’s general direction, and stumbles over into a booth. He decides there is as good a place as any for a snooze, so Tae-joo has to haul him out to his car. Dong-chul’s directions are suspiciously vague and for good reason—he has directed Tae-joo to Chief Kyung-se’s house, not his own. Ha, Dong-chul wanders off screaming at Kyung-se to come out and fight him.

Meanwhile, Tae-joo is distracted by a ringing phone. He warily answers, and it’s the mysterious caller from Seoul. Unconcerned by Tae-joo’s demands to know who he is, the caller simply says, “We’ll be meeting soon, Tae-joo. Have patience.”

The next morning, Tae-joo gets another phone call, but this one is from Dong-chul. It’s no more pleasant though, as Dong-chul rasps down the phone that he needs Tae-joo’s help. He’s at Kyung-se’s place, and Dong-chul says, “I think I might have caused trouble.”

It looks like Dong-chul has caused A LOT of trouble. Tae-joo finds him covered in blood… and Kyung-se’s body lying lifeless in the bath.

Dong-chul can’t remember anything from most of last night, and certainly not why he’s here at Kyung-se’s place. The first he learned of it was this morning when he awoke and stumbled in on Kyung-se’s body (notably, his shirt was clean until he came upon the scene). He can’t even remember why he’s here at Kyung-se’s place, since everything after the bar is a blank.

Tae-joo yells that he’s here because he wanted to kill Kyung-se. Although Dong-chul is adamant that he didn’t kill Kyung-se, he seems less sure of himself after Tae-joo points out that he doesn’t remember anything. Dong-chul’s head falls to his hands, despairing.

Police sirens blare outside, even though neither Dong-chul nor Tae-joo called them. Tae-joo intently asks Dong-chul why he called him this morning. As they raise their hands for the incoming officers, Dong-chul answers tautly, “Because I need your help.”

The station is silent and shocked as Tae-joo leads Dong-chul through the crowd. Nam-shik stops him with tears in his eyes and Dong-chul stoically reassures him that he’s okay.

Outside, the disbanded team presses Tae-joo for details, worried that their beloved captain might really have done something terrible. Yong-ki can’t believe it, Nam-shik doesn’t want to believe it, and Na-young insists that Dong-chul isn’t the type to do something like this.

Tae-joo frankly tells them that he doesn’t know if Dong-chul committed the crime, but he assures them he will lead the investigation to make sure Dong-chul gets a fair chance… Except a sharply suited man interrupts to correct Tae-joo that no one with a personal connection to Dong-chul will be working the case.

The man smoothly introduces himself as Chief Ahn Min-shik, the man in charge of the investigation—and adds that he used to work in Seoul central. Just like Tae-joo did. With a creeping realization, Tae-joo connects the man in front of him with the mysterious caller from Seoul.

Perturbed, Tae-joo follows Chief Ahn and demands to know how he knows him. Chief Ahn tells Tae-joo that he should know better than anyone, but there will be time to discuss those matters later. For now, Chief Ahn unceremoniously orders Dong-chul’s things removed from his office, and makes himself at home.

Chief Ahn asks Tae-joo why he was the first person on the scene, and rubs his chin thoughtfully that Dong-chul called Tae-joo. Still smiling, Chief Ahn asks what Dong-chul was like to work with, not as a cop, but as a colleague—does Tae-joo think that Dong-chul could have committed murder? At Tae-joo’s staunch no, Chief Ahn comments that they will have to wait and see whether Tae-joo’s judgment is correct.

In their first interrogation, Chief Ahn lays out the damning evidence against Dong-chul—the murder weapon (Kyung-se’s police award) that has Dong-chul’s fingerprints all over it, the blood on his shirt, the ruckus he caused at 3:30 a.m. when Kyung-se’s death is estimated at 4 a.m. And above all, Dong-chul’s convenient memory loss.

It looks like Chief Ahn has scored a hit, as Dong-chul and Tae-joo share a look.

The team is still waiting outside, worried, and Tae-joo attempts to calm them down. But Chief Ahn’s arrival heightens the tension, as Dong-chul is led away to a different detainment center, due to the number of watching eyes on this case. Yong-ki blusters that Dong-chul’s handcuffs should be removed, but Chief Ahn effectively shuts him up as he cautions that they should focus on their transfer.

Still acting as their captain, Dong-chul cheerily assures Yong-ki and Nam-shik that he’s fine, and that they look good in their new uniforms. Led away, Dong-chul calls back, “I didn’t kill Kyung-se. Do everything you can.”

Aw no, Na-young’s transfer to a “better division” is actually just an extra humiliation—she’s dressed as a tiger and helps children cross the road. Tae-joo lightly comments that this doesn’t seem like a promotion, although Na-young takes it in stride as she answers that the kids are cute.

Tae-joo admits to being confused about this case, since everything points to Dong-chul being the killer. Na-young astutely points out, “Dong-chul trusts you the most. Shouldn’t you believe him? Captain is certain that you will believe him.”

But news from the radio shows that maybe Dong-chul doesn’t want to wait for Tae-joo’s belief—he has escaped from police custody while in the middle of his transfer. Tae-joo and Na-young rush to the scene, where it transpires that Dong-chul had conned his way out of his cuffs (to pee) and then attacked the officers before taking off in their car.

Dong-chul’s stolen car was spotted heading in the opposite direction of his family’s home (he didn’t want them to know of his troubles) so Tae-joo gathers Na-young, Yong-ki, and Nam-shik to carry out surveillance on the area he was last seen in before Chief Ahn can find him.

Their search is futile though, and they end up drinking away their frustration at the bar. Nam-shik hesitantly asks why Dong-chul would even escape if he really were innocent. Yong-ki insists that Dong-chul did nothing wrong, though from the looks on all of their faces, they might be starting to doubt that.

Tae-joo wearily heads home… and comes face to face with a waiting Dong-chul, who had nowhere else to go. Upright as ever, Tae-joo’s first instinct is to call the station and turn Dong-chul in. An offended Dong-chul stops him. He asks if Tae-joo doesn’t trust him, and Tae-joo reiterates that he can’t trust someone who can’t even remember.

Frustrated, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that he should just phone the police on him then, but Tae-joo tensely asks why he should trust Dong-chul. His gaze intent on Tae-joo, Dong-chul answers, “Because I trust you. This is why you should trust me too.”

Rocked by the admission, Tae-joo doesn’t call the police on Dong-chul. The two men sit side by side, and Dong-chul says that his fate lies in Tae-joo’s hands now. Tae-joo (rightly) gripes, “How can you escape without even planning ahead?”

Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul really can’t remember anything useful, though apparently he can—he remembers that there was someone else at Kyung-se’s place that night, a figure dressed all in black. At Tae-joo’s disgust over the withheld information, Dong-chul shamefacedly mutters, “I started to recall some things after I became sober.”

With revived purpose now, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that he needs to get a look at Kyung-se’s body—Dr. Park wasn’t allowed on the case, so they’ll need to break into the mortuary. Dong-chul takes a long swig for some liquid courage, and meaningfully looks at Tae-joo. Haha.

Craaash. They break a window into the mortuary and sneak in. Tae-joo notes that Kyung-se has no defensive wounds, which indicates that the attack happened very quickly, and then notices the second-degree burn on Kyung-se’s foot.

The hot water in Kyung-se’s bath kept running, causing the burn—which must have kept his body warm for longer than normal, and means that the time of death predicted is wrong. Kyung-se was already dead by the time Dong-chul arrived. The man Dong-chul saw in the apartment must have been his killer.

Dong-chul doesn’t want Yong-ki and Nam-shik to get in any more trouble than they already are, but Tae-joo points out that they are going to need some help to investigate this. Dong-chul says that he knows someone.

The two sneak through the alleys of Insung, to knock on a shady looking door. Dong-chul comes with an offering of food, and smiles at the slovenly man who answers the door. “How have you been, honey?” he says. The man greets Dong-chul as “Wifey.” Ha!

Inside, Dong-chul play-fights with his friend… and it’s Tae-joo who accidentally gets punched in the face. Oh, that’s great.

Dong-chul introduces Tae-joo to Detective Shin Chul-hong, and the two good-naturedly rib each other about who is the better boxer. Tae-joo notices the pictures of a young woman laid proudly out in Detective Shin’s house—and also the tremor in Detective Shin’s hand as he pours out his alcohol.

Detective Shin must be very good friends with Dong-chul, as he promises to look into the culprit leaving Kyung-se’s house and warns Tae-joo to look after Dong-chul, “Be sure to hold his hand tight when you’re taking him around. He gets himself in trouble a lot.” Tae-joo forthrightly agrees, lol.

Detective Shin takes a call, and has to head out to investigate a sighting of Dong-chul at Insung station. Dong-chul fusses over his impractical shoes, and tells him to take care of his health, but Detective Shin waves his concern away. He tells Dong-chul that soon he’ll retire and take over the gym again, and offers Dong-chul a place to train.

Once Detective Shin is gone, Dong-chul explains that Detective Shin used to be his boxing coach, and it was under his tutelage that Dong-chul had reached the 1966 Olympics. When Dong-chul had to stop boxing after an injury, it was Detective Shin that found him and beat some sense into him.

At that time, Detective Shin had changed careers and become a policeman. Dong-chul admits that it’s because of Detective Shin that he had had the courage to become a detective as well, after he saw Shin putting away all the criminals. He credits Detective Shin with saving him from just being a loser the rest of his life.

The two slip away back to Tae-joo’s place, where Dong-chul gets a restful night’s sleep and Tae-joo can’t get any at all because of Dong-chul’s loud snoring. It does mean that Tae-joo is awake to hear his TV begin to talk again, though the picture isn’t visible and the voices drop in and out. One thing is clear though—the surgery they are discussing will be difficult for Tae-joo to recover from.

Dong-chul once again awakes to find Tae-joo behaving rather oddly with his TV, and jokes, “You should just date your TV. Or marry it.” Aaaaand then Dong-chul has the audacity to complain that Tae-joo’s restless sleeping kept him awake all night. He staunchly refuses to believe he was snoring: “I make really gentle breathing noises!”

Refusing to be a fugitive alongside Dong-chul, Tae-joo prepares to go out to work, and looks less than impressed when Dong-chul grabs his ankle and whines, “I’ll be bored, so hurry back. My heart starts racing and I get weird thoughts when I’m alone.” Dong-chul puts his order in for a rotisserie chicken and despite his protests otherwise, promptly falls asleep when Tae-joo leaves.

The station doesn’t feel the same anymore to Tae-joo, as he stares at all the empty desks his team used to occupy. Even this moment is ruined by Chief Ahn, who orders Tae-joo to immediately tell him if Dong-chul shows up or contacts him.

Nam-shik sneakily ushers Tae-joo into a closet room, where Yong-ki is waiting. Aww, these two refused to give up on Dong-chul, and have still been investigating. They got a tip yesterday that a burglar named Oh Yong-tae had pawned an item that was probably stolen—and they discovered it was an award inscribed to Kyung-se (in a spot Oh Yong-tae likely wouldn’t have noticed).

Oh Yong-tae delivers gas cans for a living, and scouts out homes he can easily burgle while doing so—and guess who Yong-tae recently delivered to.

The trio heads over to Yong-tae’s house—but as they do, they find the door broken and the sound of rustling inside. Tae-joo warily heads in as Nam-shik and Yong-ki take watch. Inside, Tae-joo can see someone crouched down, going through drawers.

It can’t be Yong-tae though, since he arrives back home to find Yong-ki and Nam-shik outside and does a runner. Tae-joo moves to hit the man inside the house—and it’s Detective Shin. The four cops chase after Yong-tae as he makes a break for it. Detective Shin recklessly throws himself at Yong-tae, stopping him and hurting his arm in the process.

Through his own sleuthing skills, Detective Shin found out that Yong-tae was a likely culprit. His face hardening, he tells Tae-joo to let him handle this and roughly grabs Yong-tae by his shirt. Detective Shin threatens the truth out of Yong-tae—that he was there the night Kyung-se was killed, but he didn’t kill him.

Yong-tae arrived at Kyung-se’s after three, when he was already dead, but he had seen someone there. Detective Shin doesn’t take kindly to the fact that Yong-tae didn’t actually see who it was, but his shaking hands stop the impending beating far more effectively than Tae-joo’s request for him to stop.

Ashamed at his weakness, Detective Shin hurries around a corner to take his medicine, his breath short. Tae-joo follows, and glimpses the prescription—although Detective Shin tries to cover that he must have drunk too much last night, Tae-joo doesn’t let him get away with it. Detective Shin confesses that he has stomach cancer and he only has a year left to live.

But when Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul knows, Detective Shin fiercely tells Tae-joo not to tell him because, “I don’t want him to see me like this.”

Yong-ki and Nam-shik are shocked to learn that Dong-chul is hiding out at Tae-joo’s apartment, but are happy to bring Yong-tae over. Dong-chul excitedly declares that Yong-tae is the man he saw at Kyung-se’s place that night.

Tae-joo’s face softens as he delivers the next piece of news—as Detective Shin was walking away from Yong-tae, Yong-tae had recognized his military boots. Detective Shin was the man at Kyung-se’s apartment, and he had come to ensure Yong-tae hadn’t seen his face.

Livid and in shock, Dong-chul denies that it was Detective Shin. He doesn’t listen when Tae-joo points out that of all the people Detective Shin could have investigated, it was Yong-tae he picked out. Instead, Dong-chul bull-rushes outside to try and beat an alternative truth from Yong-tae.

But Yong-tae sticks to his guns. Reckless now, Dong-chul attempts to leave to ask Detective Shin if he was there that night, but Tae-joo tells he can’t do that when Detective Shin is a prime suspect. Dong-chul’s face twists and he lowers his voice, “Say that again and I’ll smash your face.”

So off the two go to confront Detective Shin. He’s not at home, but the crack of a gunshot draws their attention outside. The two run furiously to the source, where Detective Shin sits motionless in his car. Dong-chul draws cautiously near, saying, “Sunbae?”

As Dong-chul opens the door, Detective Shin’s body falls into his arms, a gunshot wound in his temple. Deep sobs rack Dong-chul’s body as he cradles his mentor to him, and he howls, “Why did you die first?”

Back at Tae-joo’s apartment, Dong-chul scrubs his arms clean of Detective Shin’s blood, and then leaves to be beside Detective Shin’s body at the morgue. Although Tae-joo tries to tell him it’s too dangerous, Dong-chul is firm as he says, “Chul-hong will be there alone. I will be there with him at least.”

As they all depart, Tae-joo’s doctor on the TV calls out happily to him, “You will be able to come back home soon.” The doctor explains that the fragment of bone that has been keeping Tae-joo unconscious will be removed soon—by Dr. Ahn Min-shik.

The phone rings. Of course, it’s Chief Ahn, and he has something to discuss with Tae-joo. Eyes narrowed, Tae-joo answers, “I have something I want to ask you as well.”

 
COMMENTS

Well guys, it’s time to talk about Dong-chul. This episode was almost entirely dedicated to our resident reprobate leader, and it was illuminating, engaging, and heartbreaking by turns. We get hints of the man that Dong-chul used to be, a young braggart with quick fists, as well as the man he could have been without Detective Shin’s guidance—a rebel destined for life as a “loser.” As this show has subtly showed before, we become who we are not just because of our character but because of our circumstances, and without any purpose to drive him forward Dong-chul may well have succumbed to the other side of the law. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the reason Dong-chul is so good at catching criminals is because he understands them—he does thrive on his instinct after all.

Which brings us to said mentor—this show has a very difficult relationship with father figures, doesn’t it? This is the second time that a father/mentor has been killed following shocking revelations about their character. We still don’t know Detective Shin’s motive for either killing Kyung-se or himself (though I suspect it has something to do with the young woman on his dresser) but at the end of the day, Dong-chul isn’t a murderer. I think he is going to find it difficult to reconcile the man who saved him with the man Detective Shin was, or had become. So much of Dong-chul’s character was molded by Detective Shin, both in his boxing and police career, yet Detective Shin was willing to watch Dong-chul take the fall for him in the end. That has got to hurt, and on top of that Dong-chul must come to terms with Detective Shin’s death. Phew.

Which makes me really glad that Tae-joo is there for him. Really, the blossoming bromance between Dong-chul and Tae-joo has become the beating heart of this series. It is genuinely lovely to see their friendship on TV, the coming together of two different breeds of exaggeratedly masculinized men. One is coarse and hot-tempered, the other clinical and repressed, but in the end they both understand each other. The parallels of loss between Tae-joo’s dad and Dong-chul’s mentor are striking, the unresolved tension left behind for both our heroes a mark of affinity. It was a particularly nice touch that after Detective Shin’s death we see Dong-chul’s distorted image in the broken mirror, reflecting his disordered state of mind. This, of course, parallels with Tae-joo in an earlier episode when he had just arrived in 1988 and felt like he was on shifting ground. Now it’s Dong-chul’s turn to question himself. I hope that Tae-joo’s understanding will help Dong-chul process his tumultuous emotions, and I’m just glad that Tae-joo has changed enough that he will actually be able to provide the support Dong-chul is going to need.

We are also really drilling down into the overall mystery here—I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a simple time travel mechanism at play, because there are just too many threads from Tae-joo’s life that permeate this world to be coincidence. But it’s slightly unbelievable to think that Tae-joo could simply have dreamed the world of 1988 up, which leaves us in that delicious, disorienting middle place where the viewers are as confused as Tae-joo is. What I can say is that every step Tae-joo has taken leads him further from his 2018 self (who would NEVER have harbored a fugitive) and we have seen him become a more comfortable version of himself here. Although his mother moving away initially seems sad, I believe this reflects Tae-joo’s inner belief that it’s time for him to stand on his own here. He has carved out a place for himself and he needs less connection with the person that he used to be.

Which is why Chief Ahn is such a terrifying prospect, as he threatens to tear down this world Tae-joo has found peace in. Kudos to the actor, Choi Jin-ho because this is very late in the game to introduce a credible new villain, but his gentle voice and smile had me appropriately chilled. He just seems so reasonable even as he methodically dismantles everything Tae-joo holds dear. Poor old Kyung-se ended up just being a middleman of mediocrity for our heroes to rail at, when the true threat was one they didn’t even see coming. It happened so quickly that even I had whiplash. And how disheartening was it to see our plucky Na-young getting pushed over by a bunch of bratty kids? She had finally gained respect with the team, and now the authorities are trying to hide her light under a bushel again. It’s so unfair.

If 1988 is a figment of Tae-joo’s imagination, or some form of Tae-joo’s 2018 issues playing out, what does that mean of the TV doctor? I had theorized that the TV was the real world impacting on Tae-joo’s consciousness in moments when he was susceptible to it, or when he most needed to hear it. But if this is his imagination, it’s worrying that the TV is starting to crackle, and he is finding it ever more difficult to hear the words of his loved ones. Is Tae-joo really in a coma and he’s retreating too far to hear the real world anymore?

I’m not convinced it is actually, because the TV doctor came across as quite sinister in this episode. Rather than merely being a harbinger of bad news, I have genuine misgivings about the sincerity of his motivations. The “fragment” of brain tissue for example, seems far too convenient to be the root of Tae-joo’s coma. Why has this only arisen now? Is the doctor trying to keep Tae-joo afraid? Not to mention the fact that Ahn Min-shik seems to be part of the doctor’s world. Is Tae-joo afraid to wake up in 2018 and has cast Dr. Min-shik as a villain—or is the TV doctor a part of the construct we are in and not a part of the real 2018 at all? On top of all that, Tae-joo’s headaches are getting more severe, which is really bad news. It was easy to dismiss these as a side effect of Tae-joo’s time travel/coma, but they’re getting worse and worse now—what if they mean that Tae-joo is close to death? And if Na-young’s touch is the only thing that brings him back, I hope Tae-joo keeps her close to him at all times.

Mystery of the episode: Why did Detective Shin kill Kyung-se? Did he at least leave a note to exonerate Dong-chul?

Tune of the episode: There wasn’t really any tune that stood out to me, so I will instead point you to the first released OST, a rocking tune by Patrick Joseph called “Agnes.”

 
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86 August 1, 2018August 8, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 14

by Sunny

Life is about choices and the time has come for Tae-joo to choose. As conflicting narratives come into focus, Tae-joo is going to have to decide what to believe and face the consequences that could impact not only the 1988 timeline, but his 2018 fate as well.

 
EPISODE 14 RECAP

Tae-joo gets a medical update via snowy TV and hears that he’ll be waking up soon. Mom’s voice comes through promising to never give up and urging him to do the same. Tae-joo thanks her and then the phone rings—Chief Ahn wants to see him.

At the office, Chief Ahn pulls out a photo of Dong-chul’s friend, Detective Shin, dead in his car. He coolly states that the body was found an hour ago and that a witness had seen Dong-chul at the scene. What’s more, he ran away with an unknown man before the police arrived.

Chief Ahn is suspicious and asks where Dong-chul is. Tae-joo claims not to know and Chief Ahn lets it drop. Tae-joo asks for details on Detective Shin’s death and learns that the police believe he committed suicide to cover up his transgressions.

Chief Ahn pulls out a bankbook and tells Tae-joo that Insung Construction—a shady company that used to run under Oh Jung-man (the gangster arrested for murder back in Episode 9). The bankbook belongs to Detective Shin’s daughter and has received regular deposits from Insung Construction.

Insung City is in the process of redevelopment and those deposits were for Detective Shin to look the other way on Insung Construction’s “business.” Chief Ahn adds that there’s evidence that Chief Kim was also receiving bribes. He suggests that Tae-joo keep his distance from Dong-chul and the others.

A man comes to collect Chief Ahn, but Tae-joo stops him to ask what his reason is for coming here. With a cryptic smile, Chief Ahn answers that Tae-joo already knows why. Tae-joo presses and Chief Ahn replies, “After this case is closed, let’s go home together.”

He tells Tae-joo to hang on a little longer, and takes his leave. Na-young shuffles up behind Tae-joo, her tiger mascot suit dangling from her fingers. Her voice is tired when she calls out to him, and he immediately relieves her of her bag and the mascot head.

Na-young asks about Dong-chul and Tae-joo says he’s been found and is with Yong-ki and Nam-shik. She wonders if he’s heard about Detective Shin’s death and Tae-joo admits the two of them were at the scene earlier.

They go into the office and Na-young sits on her desk while Tae-joo fetches her a glass of water. When he returns and props himself against the adjoining desk, she asks if he’s really planning on going back. Na-young admits that she overheard Chief Ahn telling him they’d return when the case was closed.

Tae-joo swallows and looks away, unable to answer. Na-young pushes forward, saying she thought he’d finally come to like it here. She guesses she was wrong, and asks if he still hates this place. Tae-joo quickly denies it, but when asked why he’s still leaving he says, “I can’t stay here forever.”

Tae-joo says he has to return and Na-young ducks her head, staring at her hands. Tae-joo apologizes, but Na-young says it’s nothing to be sorry about… but her voice wavers and she doesn’t look him in the face.

She redirects attention to the duffel she was carrying and says that it’s extra clothes Dong-chul’s wife packed for him. Quickly swiping a tear from her eye, Na-young asks Tae-joo to deliver it before excusing herself for the night. Oof, my heart.

Heading over to the health center, Tae-joo finds Yong-ki standing outside the examination room keeping guard while Dong-chul is with Detective Shin’s body. Nam-shik has bought them a little time by taking the actual guard out drinking. Tae-joo heads into the autopsy room to find Dong-chul sprawled on the floor, soju in hand.

Tae-joo suggests that they leave as Chief Ahn could come in at any moment, but Dong-chul snaps that he’s not afraid. Sighing, Tae-joo reveals that Chief Ahn thinks Dong-chul is involved in both Chief Kim and Detective Shin’s deaths.

Dong-chul laughs ruefully that Chief Ahn thinks he killed Detective Shin, but Tae-joo corrects him that it’s been written off as a suicide. Snapping to attention, Dong-chul asks what he means. Tae-joo repeats what Chief Ahn had said about the bribes. Dong-chul grows irate and grabs Tae-joo’s collar, shouting that Detective Shin never accepted so much as a free cup of coffee throughout his carreer.

Tae-joo lets Dong-chul shout and then reasons that it’s possible Detective Shin wanted to leave something behind for his daughter. He continues that Detective Shin had confessed to having cancer and less than a year left to live. Tears stream down Dong-chul’s face as Tae-joo admits that Detective Shin hadn’t wanted him to know.

Defeated, Dong-chul mutters that life isn’t fair. He stumbles over to the autopsy table just as Yong-ki scrambles inside to say Chief Ahn is coming down the hall. A detective bangs on the door and demands that Dong-chul come out. Chief Ahn orders the door be broken down, but Tae-joo spots the soju bottles on the floor and throws one at the outlet—successfully shorting out the building’s power.

The hallway goes dark and a man bursts out of the autopsy room and tears off down the hallway. The two detectives with Chief Ahn give chase but he pauses to peek inside the autopsy room—but it’s empty!

Chief Ahn races after the others and as soon as he’s gone, the door of one of the cold lockers bursts open and Dong-chul and Tae-joo roll out. Tae-joo worries about Yong-ki (who ran out as a decoy) but Dong-chul assures him Yong-ki knows the area better than anyone.

Despite Tae-joo’s concerns, Dong-chul insists on accompanying him to the station to see Detective Shin’s bankbook himself. Tae-joo is anxious, but follows anyway and sends the station guard out for a break so Dong-chul can sneak back into his office.

Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul has his keys for the locked drawer on the desk and he assures him he does… before just ripping the drawer out with sheer strength. Heh.

Tae-joo says Detective Shin is their prime suspect for Chief Kim’s death since he’s the only person other than Dong-chul and the thief they’ve confirmed at the scene. His voice softens and he adds that he knows it’s a rough situation, but Dong-chul needs to set aside personal feelings if he wants to clear his name.

To Tae-joo’s horror, Dong-chul tears out a page of the report. Dong-chul points out he’s already wanted for murder, so theft is nothing. He’s ready to investigate and Tae-joo shoves everything back into the drawers before joining him. Unfortunately, Chief Ahn has just returned and Tae-joo only has a moment to shove Dong-chul in a corner and throw him Na-young’s mascot suit.

Tae-joo steps up to distract Chief Ahn, saying he heard Dong-chul was spotted and asking if they’d caught him. Chief Ahn grumbles that despite his looks, Dong-chul is sly and managed to evade them. Dong-chul—clad in Na-young’s tiger suit—stumbles out to join them as Tae-joo agrees that Dong-chul is a “cunning scumbag.” Hehe.

If Chief Ahn finds them suspicious, he doesn’t say anything, even as Tae-joo introduces the very tall tiger as Na-young. After a curt nod, Chief Ahn shuts himself in his office and the two detectives hustle out of there. In the hall, two passing officers slap Dong-chul on the butt and Tae-joo has to hold him back as he grumbles, “He touched me. He wants to fight the tiger!”

Dong-chul and Tae-joo reinvestigate Chief Ahn’s house and Tae-joo runs back through the crime. The killer murdered Chief Kim in the bath with his award plaque and turned on the hot water to disguise his time of death, which was actually around 3:00 a.m., rather than 4:00.

At 3:30 a.m., Dong-chul had drunkenly burst in and immediately passed out on the couch. The killer had wiped everything he touched clean, and then reapplied Dong-chul’s fingerprints to the murder weapon. Afterwards, the burglar, Oh Yong-tae, had arrived and seen the culprit leaving.

The only thing the men can’t figure out is why Detective Shin would murder Chief Kim… or stay at the scene for an extra half hour afterwards. Tae-joo wonders if he was searching for something and remembers how he’d seen Detective Shin rifling through Yong-tae’s house before they’d all chased the thief down.

Yong-tae is still in custody, so they have him released. Yong-tae is dubious… and rightly so as Dong-chul jumps him as soon as he’s free. Tae-joo disapproves of Dong-chul knocking the guy out, but Dong-chul points out he’s already seen them together and it would be bad if he told Chief Ahn.

Nam-shik joins them, having finished covering Yong-tae’s release. They wake the thief and demand that he show them everything he stole from Chief Kim. Unfortunately, someone is already ransacking Yong-tae’s place when they arrive.

Nam-shik rushes in too early and the intruder manages to push past. Dong-chul and Tae-joo give chase and Dong-chul finds the intruder first. They scuffle and Dong-chul spots a gang tattoo on the man’s back before he escapes again.

Running after him, Dong-chul meets Tae-joo in the alley moments before a car comes careening towards them. They jump out of the way just in time, but they lose the intruder, who Dong-chul reveals is part of the Seobu Gang.

Nam-shik joins them and they ask what he did with Yong-tae. Nam-shik assures them he cuffed Yong-tae to a gas tank, but he’s gone by the time they return. Fortunately, Yong-tae hasn’t gotten far as the gas tank is heavy. They easily find him shuffling down a nearby alley and drag him back to the house.

Yong-tae piles everything he stole in the middle of the room, but admits the ledger is missing. He adds how it was strange how carefully Chief Kim had hidden it and wonders where it went. Since the gang member tonight was empty-handed, the Tae-joo realizes Detective Shin must’ve taken it.

Tae-joo and Dong-chul start to leave and Nam-shik wonders what to do with Yong-tae. Dong-chul says Yong-tae admitted to stealing everything, so of course he’ll go back to jail. After confirming Yong-tae will keep his mouth shut about Dong-chul, they have Nam-shik lock him back up.

Unfortunately, Detective Shin’s place is crawling with cops, so Dong-chul and Tae-joo head back home. Nam-shik joins them later and flinches when he sees Yong-ki, who’s coated in mud and grass after leading the cops on a wild goose chase. Everyone, including Na-young, is seated around the table eating dinner by candlelight.

Yong-ki compliments Na-young’s cooking and assures Tae-joo that the officers are searching in the opposite direction of his house. Dong-chul affectionately places kimchi in everyone’s bowls and it’s such a warm moment, Tae-joo’s face breaks into a rare smile.

Afterwards, the team huddles up and Dong-chul says they need to wrap this case up quickly. He asks about his family and Na-young assures him that they’re doing well, and believe in him. Yong-ki wonders why the Seobu gang is involved when they supposedly broke up after their leader, Oh Jung-man, was arrested.

Nam-shik says the members regrouped to become Insung Construction. Oh Jung-man’s position as CEO was passed on to a relative of Chief Kim. Na-young adds that when Insung Construction was investigated, Jung-man was arrested for fraud but Chief Kim had all the charges dismissed. Additionally, the officer in charge was Detective Shin.

During the investigation, the ledger was one of the items confiscated and Dong-chul guesses that’s why the Seobu Gang is involved now. Tae-joo promises to check whether Chief Ahn has found the ledger tomorrow.

After everyone has left, Tae-joo finds Dong-chul sitting quietly in the corner, drinking soju. Tae-joo suggests that they go to bed, but Dong-chul says he has too much to think about. Tae-joo pours them both a drink and then admits that he’s never trusted anyone his whole life.

Tae-joo:“I always thought that I was the only person who was right. Then… I lost the only person who trusted me. Maybe that’s why I am they way I am now.”

Tae-joo says that unlike him, Dong-chul has a lot of people who trust in him—Tae-joo included. Realizing Tae-joo is trying to cheer him up, Dong-chul snorts that Tae-joo must be dying soon. Tae-joo snipes that Dong-chul is the one acting weak. Chuckling softly, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to hush up and drink.

The next morning, Tae-joo hears his 2018 doctor discussing his surgery with Doctor Ahn, who says Tae-joo needs to remain mentally stable for the surgery to be a success. “You’ll undergo surgery soon,” Doctor Ahn says, “You have to trust me until then.”

Getting up, Tae-joo realizes Dong-chul is not with him and dials Na-young. He tells her Dong-chul has disappeared without a word again and to inform Nam-shik and Yong-ki as well. No sooner does he hang up than there’s a knock at the door.

Chief Ahn greets him with a smile and they relocate to the pier. Chief Ahn admits that he’s known all along Tae-joo and Dong-chul were together. Tae-joo wonders why he feigned ignorance. Chief Ahn says he was worried about Tae-joo and if he’d forgotten where he came from.

Tae-joo assures him he knows where he’s from and asks when Chief Ahn will bring him home. Chief Ahn replies, “When the risk factors are gone.” His words mirror 2018 Doctor Ahn’s and Chief Ahn slids over a file of bribery allegations, saying it’s a report on Dong-chul.

Tae-joo opens it to find a bankbook set up the same way as Detective Shin’s. Tossing the file in the backseat, Tae-joo says it’s impossible. Chief Ahn points out that Dong-chul is looking for the ledger and admits that he hasn’t found it yet, either. However, Chief Ahn says Dong-chul’s name will be in the ledger, along with multiple other officers from their station.

Concerned about Tae-joo’s relationship with Dong-chul, Chief Ahn asserts that Dong-chul is “volatile” and there’s no knowing when he’ll “burst.” Tae-joo takes it as a metaphor for his surgery and asks if Chief Ahn means for him to eliminate Dong-chul in order for his operation to succeed.

Tae-joo explains that Doctor Ahn had said they needed to remove the “risk factors” in order for the surgery to be successful and Tae-joo to wake up. He insists that they’re in his dream while he lies in a hospital bed and Chief Ahn is really the surgeon who’s going to help him wake up.

Shaking his head, Chief Ahn sighs that he’d heard Tae-joo had been in a car accident the day he arrived. He tells Tae-joo to snap out of it: “You came here from Central to perform an internal audit.”

Tae-joo argues that he’s from the forensic branch and this is all just a dream. However, he suddenly seems unsure. As if trying to convince himself, Tae-joo shouts that it’s a dream while repeatedly pounding his fist into the roof of the car. Staring at his throbbing hand, Tae-joo extracts himself from the car.

Chief Ahn joins him and hands over Tae-joo’s initial report on the audit. Flipping it open, Tae-joo stares at Dong-chul’s profile. Chief Ahn tells him to check who wrote it and Tae-joo’s own name glares back at him.

“You started all this,” Chief Ahn says, “Do you get it now?” He barks that Tae-joo is not from the forensic branch, but the Seoul Central Investigative Agency. Staring at Chief Ahn in disbelief, Tae-joo flashes back to Kim Hyun-seok warning him not to trust the man who called him.

Tae-joo asks how he can trust Chief Ahn and the older man shouts that he’s the one who sent Tae-joo here. He reiterates that this is not a dream and urges Tae-joo to pull himself together. Tae-joo doesn’t accept it and tears up the report, tossing it into the water.

Returning to the station, Tae-joo makes a beeline for his file. Pulling out the transfer notice, he’s dismayed to find Chief Ahn’s name on the signature line. Voices from 2018 and 1988 mingle together from different devices, repeating conflicting truths.

Tae-joo’s 2018 doctor shouts that his vitals are going haywire, calling for Doctor Ahn. The detective from the TV program whispers that it’s okay for Tae-joo to give up if everything is hard while another voice tells him not to believe anything, as they’re all lies.

Papers fly into the air as Tae-joo’s heartbeat drowns out the voices. Na-young arrives and stares at the papers scattered all across the floor. She addresses him and Tae-joo snaps out of his stupor long enough to glance down at the crumpled transfer notice in his hand before collapsing to the floor.

Tae-joo wakes up at the health clinic and Manager Park snaps at him to take better care of himself. Sitting up, Tae-joo sees his wound—from Hyun-seok stabbing him on the bridge—has been redressed. Manager Park says Tae-joo overexerted himself, resulting in the wound reopening and becoming infected.

Manager Park tells him to rest and leaves as Na-young walks in. She asks if he’s okay and he starts to agree, but then admits he’s in pain. He asks her why he’s still dreaming, or if this is actually reality. Tae-joo’s confused and looks lost as he asks if he’s gone crazy.

Na-young reminds him that you can’t feel anything if you’re not alive and places his hand on her heart—just as she’d done when he’d first come and tried to jump off the roof. She asks if he still doesn’t feel anything and Tae-joo stares up into her eyes for a few beats before pulling back.

Tae-joo reveals that Chief Ahn showed him something but he doesn’t know how to take it. He tells Na-young he’s not sure what’s the truth or what he should believe.

Na-young:“Listen to the sound of your heart instead of using your eyes to see. The truth lies there. Just like it has always been.”

Yong-ki and Nam-shik come in to check on Tae-joo and report that while they still haven’t heard from Dong-chul, Chief Ahn hasn’t found him either. Unfortunately, the Seobu Gang is on the hunt for Dong-chul as well.

Nam-shik sighs that Dong-chul should’ve included them in his plans, but Na-young thinks he was trying to protect them. Tae-joo is sure Dong-chul is searching for the ledger and urges the other two to keep looking for him.

Ripping out his IV, Tae-joo starts to leave as well, but Na-young worries that he shouldn’t be moving around yet. Tae-joo says that he plans to listen to her advice and find the truth for himself.

Tae-joo and Na-young try searching Detective Shin’s place first. Spotting the keys Detective Shin had given to Dong-chul under the table, Tae-joo knows that Dong-chul was there. However, since Dong-chul hasn’t called, he must not have found the ledger.

When they’d arrested the thief Yong-tae, Tae-joo remembers that Detective Shin had excused himself to go home. He realizes that Detective Shin must’ve already had the ledger, but he died before ever coming home that day. Which means the ledger is hidden elsewhere.

Na-young wonders if it’s in the car so they go to investigate. Unfortunately, there’s no ledger to be found but Tae-joo does discover a tape recorder hidden under the steering wheel. They hit play and Detective Shin’s voice tells Dong-chul he’s sorry, and that this is all he can do for him.

“I hope you’ll prove your innocence with this,” Detective Shin says before replacing the recorder in its hiding place. They then hear someone enter the car and a new voice asks if Detective Shin found the list. Detective Shin demands to know why the other man framed Dong-chul for Chief Kim’s murder… and why Chief Kim had to be killed at all.

The other man simply replies he just did what had to be done. Detective Shin says Tae-joo is suspicious and the other man replies that he’ll take care of it. By now, Na-young and Tae-joo have identified the mystery voice as belonging to Chief Ahn and he asks where Detective Shin hid the ledger.

Detective Shin assures him it’s in a safe place only he knows about, and promises to hand it over when Dong-chul is cleared. Chief Ahn warns him not to make matters worse for everyone but Detective Shin adamantly demands that Dong-chul be removed from the wanted list.

Chief Ahn says he believes Detective Shin hid the list well and asks if anyone else knows its whereabouts. Detective Shin confirms he’s the only one and Chief Ahn greasily reasons that if Detective Shin is gone, no one will ever find it… before snatching Detective Shin’s gun and shooting him in the head.

They realize Dong-chul is in danger and Tae-joo notices a small key on the key ring Detective Shin had given Dong-chul. Na-young says it looks like a drawer key and Tae-joo remembers how Detective Shin had said he’d bought a gym and would keep a locker for Dong-chul.

Tae-joo says they have to find him before Chief Ahn, and Na-young fills in the other two about the murders. Nam-shik swipes radios for each of them and they spread out to find Dong-chul. None of them is having much luck when the radio in Dong-chul’s car starts playing. Tae-joo walks over to investigate and gets run over by another car.

Tae-joo manages to get up and through the ringing in his ears, he hears a 2018 nurse shout that his cerebral artery has burst—they need to perform the surgery immediately. Shaking it off, Tae-joo turns his attention to the gangster stepping out of the car with a knife.

Even concussed, Tae-joo is a beast and quickly knocks the guy out. Na-young’s voice cries out of the radio that they’ve found Dong-chul but he’s been cornered at a warehouse by the Seobu Gang. Tae-joo tells her he’s on his way and rushes over.

He arrives to find the others fending off a horde of gangsters. Tae-joo starts to join them but Chief Ahn appears and points a gun to his head. Turning to face the gun head-on, Tae-joo guesses Chief Ahn called the gangsters and tells him to call it off.

Tae-joo accuses Chief Ahn of killing Chief Kim and Detective Shin. Chief Ahn barks at Tae-joo to wake up from his delusions and without breaking eye contact, Tae-joo places his forehead against the gun. “Kill me so I can come back to my senses.”

The evening lights-out drill blares and Tae-joo is able to wrest the gun from Chief Ahn. Tae-joo tosses Chief Ahn his cuffs and tells him to put them on. Tae-joo starts towards his team again but Chief Ahn warns him not to get close to them if he wants to return home.

He shouts that they’re “delusions” that keep Tae-joo here. Tae-joo’s ears start ringing and he hears the 2018 nurse urge him to trust Chief Ahn and then 2018 Ahn’s voice promises everything will be okay if he trusts him.

Chief Ahn pleads again for them to go home and Na-young cries for Tae-joo to help. The team is being overwhelmed and everyone is taking hits. Chief Ahn says it’s almost over. Finally, Tae-joo speaks. “Who you really are isn’t important to me,” he tells Chief Ahn, “I will believe… what’s happening before my very eyes.”

Tae-joo runs towards his friends and in 2018 we hear that the surgery is nearly over. Just as he’s about to reach the others, everything goes white… and Tae-joo wakes up in his hospital bed in 2018.

 
COMMENTS

What??? We’re back? What is happening? What does this mean? Surely 1988 wasn’t just a coma dream… it’s too crazy for that! How can we be at the threshold of the finale and still have so many questions?

This show is such a roller coaster and Tae-joo sure had a lot of twists to navigate this episode. From the beginning he’s been wrestling with himself as to whether or he’s dreaming or just crazy. Chief Ahn’s arrival finally brought that inner turmoil to a head and forced Tae-joo to decide. It’s so odd that Chief Ahn in 1988 shares an identity with Doctor Ahn of 2018 and I’m not sure what the implications are.

At first, Tae-joo believes that Chief Ahn is a literal representation of the surgeon that’s going to wake him up, but nothing is as it seems in 1988. It’s possible that (if this is a coma dream) Tae-joo created Chief Ahn after hearing about him in his sleep… which could imply that everyone else has a 2018 counterpart? At least that way we aren’t completely losing the 1988 family we’ve grown to love. But at the end when Tae-joo rebelled against Chief Ahn and the voices and ran towards his friends even if that meant he might not wake up… that was beautiful and just speaks for how far Tae-joo has come from the detached intellectual of old. And why it was actually heart-wrenching when he woke up in the hospital before he could save them.

With only two episodes left, I’m really anxious to see how the show wraps things up. As much as I didn’t want to leave 1988, Tae-joo had unfinished business in 2018. Kim Min-seok is still running rampant and with an unknown accomplice! After Hyun-seok died, did someone else take him in and groom him to be a serial killer? Or is Hyun-seok even dead in 2018? Or did he even exist at all? If 1988 was just a dream to help Tae-joo work things out, what parts would be fact and what parts fiction? I can’t believe the show has managed to keep me in the dark right up to the end and all I can say is I hope the reveal is worthy of all this great setup. It’s a tall order, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I think my favorite thing about this show, and this episode in particular, is the characters and their growth. Tae-joo has come so far from Episode 1 and really let his little team in. He’s usually so cool-headed and stoic that I was stunned when he broke out into a huge smile over dinner with his friends. These are the connections Tae-joo is missing in 2018 and while I know having forged these bonds will help him connect with people now that he’s back… I’m not ready for those 1988 bonds to be broken.

 
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191 August 6, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 15

by Helcat

Tae-joo is back through the looking glass into the real world—so why does it feel so empty and unreal? Trying to regain a sense of normality in the present, Tae-joo has some amends to make with people he left behind, and a major mystery to solve that followed him across the time periods. But he can’t forget the team that needs him back in 1988…

 
EPISODE 15 RECAP

Tae-joo’s eyes snap open and he wakes up alone and bewildered in 2018. He staggers to the door, and nearly runs into his mother on the other side, who anxiously runs off to find his doctor.

The doctor from Tae-joo’s TV screen smiles at him and introduces himself as Dr. Jang Won-jae, although Tae-joo already recognizes him from his visions in 1988. Dr. Jang tells Tae-joo that the surgery was a success, even if some of his strength has been depleted.

Tae-joo is more focused on his mother though, as he softly apologizes to her. Relieved that he’s woken up at all, Mom says, “I’m so happy you’ve returned to me like this. It must have been so hard.”

Which is when Chief Ahn enters the room, to cast shadows on the happy reunion. Disconcerted, Tae-joo narrows his eyes as Chief Ahn smilingly says, “Congratulations on retuning home, Han Tae-joo.” Now, why does that give me the chills?

Alone, bright lights from outside Tae-joo’s window cast an eerie glow on his face. Stupefied, Tae-joo wonders, “What happened?”

While catching up on the recent news, Tae-joo’s ex-fiancee Jung Seo-hyun surprises him with a visit and hugs him tightly to her. Going outside, Tae-joo apologizes to Seo-hyun. Taken aback, Seo-hyun confesses that she should be the one who’s sorry since it’s her fault he was attacked.

Seo-hyun explains that she was rescued by Officer Cho, but no one has seen any sign of Kim Min-seok since the night she was captured. Tae-joo sincerely tells Seo-hyun to come to him if she has any problems, but Seo-hyun is quick to point out that he’s only been awake for one day, and he should focus on getting better. Seo-hyun asks, “What’s it like to be alive again?”

Contemplative, Tae-joo answers, “I’m not sure. It feels like I’ve had a long dream.” Seo-hyun smiles that it must have been a nice one if he stayed in it for a whole month. As he walks away, Seo-hyun shyly says that she’s glad he came back, which touches him.

Tae-joo recuperates enough to finally go home (sans head bandage, thank goodness) but something at the hospital door gives him pause—the number of his room 5355 reminds him that the mysterious caller’s number ended in 5355.

As Tae-joo gets driven home, Mom by his side, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” starts to play on the radio. The words of real-life radio presenter Choi Hwa-jung catch his attention as the lyrics seem to play just for him, “Have you ever been to the world of dreams over the rainbow? While you’re listening, why don’t you try to forget all your dreams and concerns of that place?”

Looking lost in his own apartment, Tae-joo busies his hands by helping Mom fold laundry. Worried for his health, Mom makes him promise to take time off work and come live with her and Aunt for a while. Tae-joo notes that he missed his father’s death anniversary but Tae-joo doesn’t look reassured as Mom tells him his father will understand.

Instead, he asks Mom if they have ever lived in Insung. Shaken, Mom says that they did for a little while, and Tae-joo tells her that he had a dream while he was in a coma—that Dad wasn’t the great person he remembered. He asks Mom how his father really died.

Mom falteringly answers that she didn’t want to know any of the details, but the police told her that Dad was shot to death. Dad wasn’t the great person Tae-joo thought he was—but, Mom adds, he really was a great father to Tae-joo.

Overcome, Mom weeps that she should have told Tae-joo earlier, but Tae-joo gently hugs her and apologizes for bringing it up when it must have been so hard for her.

Trying to find closure, Tae-joo drives to Insung police station, where the familiar halls are filled with unfamiliar faces. In his old office, an ordinary scene between Yong-ki and Nam-shik fills his vision and when Dong-chul comes up behind him, it feels so real—but then the current captain of the office breaks Tae-joo’s reverie.

The captain is curious how someone as young as Tae-joo can remember the serial killer case, but is happy to let Tae-joo hunt through the old files for clues. Na-young stands among the shelves—but she’s just a ghost and disappears when Tae-joo tries to follow her.

Tae-joo finds what he is looking for, the serial killer case from 1988. He gets increasingly perturbed as he flicks through the contents—everything in his coma-dream really happened, from Go Yeong-suk and Kyung-se’s murders to Hyun-seok’s shooting on the bridge.

Determined to find the truth, Tae-joo asks the police captain to search for records of his 1988 team on the database. The captain warns him that records from thirty years ago are spotty—and he’s right, as they can’t find any mention of the four. The captain promises to look through a more extensive database.

Uh-oh. News from the TV announces that the still-missing Kim Min-seok hasn’t stopped his spate of serial murders—the body of another twenty-year-old woman was found and all signs point to him.

At the police station, Seo-hyun is mobbed by a crowd of journalists clamoring for a comment on Min-seok’s newest victim. Tae-joo has come to help, and although Seo-hyun does express her doubts that he should be working, she shows him the footage of Min-seok in the convenience store near the victim’s house.

Seo-hyun reminds Tae-joo of the phone call she left him the night she was abducted—she thinks that Min-seok has an accomplice who is protecting him. Intent, Seo-hyun asks if Tae-joo can remember anything about the person who shot him—and now that he’s thinking about it, he remembers the gun was an old model of the guns given to police officers. The accomplice might be a fellow cop.

This revelation is quickly followed by another—the police have discovered Min-seok’s hideout. Rushing to the scene, it isn’t a pleasant sight—Min-seok was living in a hovel without any proper facilities. The neighbors had no idea he was there.

Tae-joo grimly takes note of the picture of Min-seok with his brother and sister, as well as the pile of nail polish. Spotting Min-seok’s food rations, Tae-joo deduces that he must have stayed here for at least a month. A packet of painkillers particularly warrants Tae-joo’s scrutiny.

Outside, a gunshot rings out. Min-seok has been spotted near the crossroads, and some of Seo-hyun’s team chase after him. Worried, Seo-hyun orders for reinforcements and tells Tae-joo to stay where he is since he still isn’t healed… which of course, our reckless, brave hero obeys for all of two seconds before he takes off running.

Tae-joo catches up with Min-seok just in time to see his smug face, and do a pretty nifty jump-roll out of the way of his getaway car (Tae-joo learned from last time!) before Min-seok speeds away. The thwarted police come running after, unable to pursue on foot.

They find the getaway car the next day, abandoned. The journalists’ reports are harsh as they criticize the police and their incompetence in catching Min-seok, which puts the whole team on edge. An officer confirms that Min-seok murdered the recent victim because his DNA was found at the crime scene. Tae-joo is surprised by this, but Seo-hyun cynically thinks that Min-seok is showing off now.

Tae-joo notes that this brings Min-seok’s murder count up to eight women—nine, Seo-hyun corrects him. An as-yet-unreleased victim was found, murdered nine days previously. Which, worryingly, means that the period between murders is getting shorter. Worse than that, Seo-hyun adds, is that the crimes are becoming more violent as well.

Something about this feels off, and Tae-joo instinctively believes that Min-seok’s methods couldn’t have changed this much. The cogs are ticking in Tae-joo’s brain, as he thoughtfully picks up Min-seok’s packet of painkillers.

Tae-joo works through the evidence—Min-seok’s DNA revealed that he has lead and arsenic in his blood twelve times higher than it should be. A surplus of lead and arsenic can cause dizziness, spasms (caught in camera in the convenience store), and paralysis as well as disordered thinking. Tae-joo states that Min-seok is suffering from heavy metal poisoning.

With a new clue to guide the investigation, Seo-hyun orders her team to look back at the cases again.

Back at the newest crime scene, Tae-joo sighs over the evidence. As if Tae-joo called him up when he was needed most, Dong-chul’s familiar voice jovially tells Tae-joo to quit wasting time. He chides, “You can’t catch the culprit with your eyes. You have to do it with your legs.”

Yong-ki and Nam-shik hover in the doorway, ready to jump to do Dong-chul’s bidding (and aww, they give Tae-jo the thumbs-up). Still blustering, Dong-chul bangs his way out of the house—but Tae-joo can’t find him when he follows.

Tae-joo takes Dong-chul’s advice to go do something and retraces Min-seok’s steps from the convenience store to the victim’s house. As he imagines the crime as it happens, he wonders if the reason for Min-seok’s crimes is because of his attachment to his sister.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily because of attachment.” Aww, now it’s Na-young’s turn to guide Tae-joo, as she points out there is no evidence that Min-seok has any sense of connection with the women he murders.

On the contrary, they are locked up and Min-seok forces makeup on them, so it’s more like an expression of anger. Na-young says this looks like a subconscious compensation on Min-seok’s part to make up for some pain he was dealt in the past. With a last smile, Na-young asks, “What’s wrong, Chief?” When Tae-joo glances up again, Na-young is gone and he looks bereft.

A discrepancy in the time between when Min-seok was at the convenience store and when his target was killed clues the team into the fact that Min-seok’s victims aren’t just random. Instead, he carefully chooses and stalks them—which means his next victim has already been found. The blurry image of a woman reveals who Min-seok has targeted next.

Seo-hyun uses this information to direct the search, while Tae-joo muses on Min-seok’s motives. His sister Kyung-ran was abused by their father, so he probably was as well, but he shows no resentment towards his father—Min-seok’s crimes are a reflection of his sister.

As Tae-joo figures this out, Min-seok overpowers his next victim inside her home. Lying on top of her on the bed, Min-seok starts to apply makeup onto her crying face, and demands, “Stay still. I told you I’m going to make you look pretty.” Clearly no longer talking to his victim, but to his sister, Min-seok rasps, “What, are you going to hit me again? I won’t suffer because of you anymore.”

The police frantically search the area of the convenience store. It’s too late though, as Min-seok’s face contorts and he smashes a heavy weight down upon the woman’s head.

But perhaps not—Tae-joo and Seo-hyun are close by, and find the woman just barely alive. Tae-joo desperately runs out of the house, knowing that Min-seok can’t have gotten very far.

And he hasn’t. Tae-joo follows the bloody trail Min-seok leaves and slams into him, knocking him over. Although Min-seok attempts to fight back, he is weak and limping, so an agile Tae-joo is able to subdue him quickly.

But Min-seok’s mouth is firmly closed as he is interrogated at the police station. Even though they have enough evidence to lock him away, Min-seok won’t say anything about his accomplice. As an aside, Seo-hyun is informed that Officer Cho has left Seoul to inspect the handgun.

Coldly confident, Tae-joo asks to take a crack at Min-seok. Min-seok greets him familiarly, and notices that Tae-joo has finally remembered him. He tells Tae-joo it’s good to see him alive like this, when Min-seok even went to say his final goodbyes at the hospital. Tae-joo snaps back that he is looking forward to returning the favor when Min-seok is locked up—that is, if he avoids the death penalty.

Tae-joo states that the only way Min-seok is going to avoid the death penalty after his crimes is if he gives up his accomplice. He adds that they already know it must be a cop because of the handgun. Tae-joo leans in to cuttingly say, “I’ve already saved you twice, while risking quite a lot. Why would I do that for a murderer like you?”

Min-seok isn’t cowed though as he smirks and taunts, “You will never catch him. Because that person doesn’t exist in this world.”

This sparks an idea for Tae-joo, and he goes to hunt through the old case files with Seo-hun. Tae-joo muses that Hyun-seok was the culprit in 1988, although Seo-hyun looks confused as she reminds him that Hyun-seok died thirty years ago. Tae-joo is sure he is onto something though, and he orders an officer to look up the details of Hyun-seok’s death.

Hyun-seok was shot while trying to kill Director Park—who was mysteriously killed in 2008. A 38-caliber gun and theophylline (used in inhalers) were found at the scene. Tae-joo realizes with a start that Kim Hyun-seok must not have died in 1988, but has been living as someone else for all these years.

As if to confirm the theory, an officer runs in to inform the officers that Min-seok’s first getaway car was discovered abandoned in a junkyard, and theophylline was found in the car.

The team races over to the junkyard, where they find the proof they were looking for—a name badge with Hyun-seok’s face on it, going by another name now. Seo-hyun orders a sweep of the junkyard, but it’s Tae-joo who notices the figure of a worker running away.

Tae-joo leaps over a wall in pursuit… to be met with the same handgun that shot him a month ago. Hyun-seok demands to know who Tae-joo is, and Tae-joo uses the moment to swat the gun from his hands. The two scuffle, but it is Tae-joo who emerges triumphant with the gun, while Hyun-seok lies gasping on the ground.

Hyun-seok deduces that Min-seok must have been caught, and asks how Tae-joo could know his real name from thirty years ago. Perhaps—have they met before? After a pause, Tae-joo asks if he remembers the name Han Choong-ho.

Hyun-seok isn’t sure. Tae-joo’s face tightens, and he repeats, “You’re not sure? With this gun, you killed my father. And you’re not sure?” Tae-joo takes a step towards Hyun-seok, seeing the vision of his father dying in front of him, his face twisting and hand shaking. Hyun-seok doesn’t move a muscle as he stares helplessly at the gun pointed at his head.

A tense moment passes. Tae-joo whips the gun into the air and shoots it harmlessly into the sky in his fury. Still tense, Tae-joo tells Hyun-seok that the statute of limitations on his string of murders has passed, but his crimes haven’t gone anywhere. Hyun-seok sags against the ground.

As Hyun-seok is loaded into the police van, Seo-hyun confirms to Tae-joo that Hyun-seok’s “death” was fabricated. The original investigation seems like a cover-up, because Hyun-seok’s body was never actually found after he fell from the bridge. But between the Seoul Olympics and the Hwaseong serial killings, it was important to close this case.

That isn’t all—Detective Cho has been arrested today after he was bought off by Hyun-seok to tamper with the evidence in Min-seok’s case. Seo-hyun congratulates Tae-joo on a job well done, and Tae-joo even manages to muster a small smile for her.

And here we are full circle, as Seo-hyun and Tae-joo wait outside the courtroom to provide testimony in the criminal proceedings. Tae-joo promises, “I won’t do something I regret again.” Entering the courtroom, Tae-joo shares a trusting look with Seo-hyun before he announces himself with purpose.

Later that night, the TV broadcasts the outcome of the case—Min-seok has been sentenced to death for killing ten women, and his brother Hyun-seok was arrested for being an accomplice and on suspicion of Director Park’s death.

Almost at peace now, Tae-joo looks down at the old case files sent over from Insung. As he is flipping through, one catches his eye—the murder of a group of police officers by gangsters. With trepidation, Tae-joo picks it up, afraid of what he’s going to find.

It’s as bad as he feared—inside are the details of the deaths of four police officers. It’s Dong-chul, Yong-ki, Nam-shik, and Na-young. Oh no, this can’t be happening.

Tae-joo flashes back to the awful scene just before he was pulled back to 2018—of his four teammates desperately fighting for their lives, but getting overwhelmed by the bludgeon-armed forces of gangsters. Na-young’s screams echo in his head. Tae-joo jerks his head up in horror.

 
COMMENTS

Well, here we are. We are finally near the end of this wonderful, thrilling, head-spinning journey. I was terrified that something like this was going to happen. We have diverged from the original BBC series now, with the confirmed existence (and deaths) in 1988 of our plucky team. Whether this means we will be following the UK ending or not, I’m not actually sure, and I love (and hate!) that I don’t know where we are going. That’s just the appeal of a really good mystery, I guess. But it has left me very nervous going into the finale…

I enjoyed that we got a lot of time to spend with Tae-joo in his 2018 life. This felt like a resolution, and a necessary one, given that Tae-joo has spent so much time growing into a better person in 1988. But we always knew that he wanted to come back to 2018, and he definitely had unfinished business to wrap up—in both his professional and personal life. Mom became a comfort in 1988 to Tae-joo, but their roles have flipped in 2018, and it’s time for Tae-joo to provide comfort to his mom. Their scenes together were short, but very effective, and sweet. I’m glad that Tae-joo got the chance to say goodbye to Mom if he is going back to 1988. The return of the driven and lively Seo-hyun was a welcome one as well. I had a soft spot for her, and it was good to see a woman competently handling a team of police officers.

It is clear that Tae-joo has grown as a person, and what struck me was how many apologies he made to his mom and Seo-hyun. The Tae-joo of 15 episodes ago would have been too rigid to give an apology when he didn’t actually have anything to apologize for—but now he recognizes the pain they went through and wants to ease it for them. But the ghosts of his past are haunting him this episode, as the team pops up to lighten the atmosphere. It was bittersweet to see them surround Tae-joo, as he—and we—weren’t sure we were going to see them again. And it’s clear from the longing in Tae-joo’s eyes that he really, really wanted to see them again. Even in 2018, the team felt like the most alive, vibrant part of the episode.

Despite the moments of warmth in this episode, everything was overlaid with a heavy dose of melancholy. Even the palette of 2018 reflects this, as everything was just a little too crisp, too dark, and too blue compared to the earthy tones of 1988. Tae-joo was clearly finding it difficult to adjust back to 2018, even though it was what he had been searching for nearly the entire time he was in 1988. Whereas before it seemed like Tae-joo was actively being abrasive to co-workers and alienating himself, he has mellowed now and just… doesn’t fit in 2018 anymore. It doesn’t feel like a home in the same way 1988 does, which was perfectly exhibited in the scene in his modern, fancy apartment, from the stiff lines in his body. In fact, I have to applaud Jung Kyung-ho here, because there isn’t anything in Tae-joo’s dialogue during the episode that I could point to that showed he felt out of place—this was all down to the lovely, subtle acting done by Jung Kyung-ho.

It has been an absolute joy to watch this adaptation, which hasn’t faltered once and took all the good parts of the original Life on Mars but added a unique Korean spin to the narrative. It has been a tour de force, and is how adaptations should be executed—holding true to the spirit of the original while layering in native flair. I’m so glad that the excellent story and characters of Life on Mars has been transposed to another country for more people to enjoy. Thanks for coming on this ride with me.

Tune of the episode: The scene with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World” was one of my favorites from the original, so I was delighted to hear Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s beautiful voice again in this version.

Mystery of the episode: What does it mean that Hyun-seok died in Tae-joo’s coma (his body definitely was found in that timeline) but not in this 2018? Did 1988 really happen?

 
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191 August 6, 2018
178 August 8, 2018

Life on Mars: Episode 16 (Final)

by Sunny

After weeks of questions, it’s about time we get some answers. Tae-joo has wrapped up Kim Min-seok’s case, but his unfinished business in 1988 still haunts him. It’s the final hour and Tae-joo will have to figure out where his happiness lies.

 
FINAL EPISODE RECAP

A cold case file on the gang attack that resulted in the death of Dong-chul and Co. back in 1988 lies open on Tae-joo’s desk at home. Meanwhile, Tae-joo is speeding down to Insung Station to investigate further.

In the records room, Tae-joo locates the incident report and frantically flips through the crime scene photos of his friends’ bodies. His head snaps up at a cackle of familiar voices and he steps out into the hall where Dong-chul and the team are laughing loudly. He calls out to them, but they turn a corner.

Of course, when he reaches that corner, they’ve vanished. Anxiously running outside, Tae-joo grapples with his sense of reality as he wanders out into the middle of traffic. (Have you learned nothing from all your near-death scrapes with cars?)

Afterwards, Tae-joo is calming down on a bench inside when the current captain finds him. The captain hands over the case file on the gang incident and everything is as Tae-joo had said it would be… except Chief Ahn Min-sik doesn’t exist. Another name is listed in the file, but that individual has since died.

Tae-joo runs to the records room to crosscheck the documents, but Ahn Min-sik doesn’t appear anywhere. What’s more, the captain tells him Ahn Min-sik is absent from the police database altogether. He suggests that Tae-joo try contacting the Police Mutual Aid Association to be sure, but they tell Tae-joo no such person has ever worked within the force.

More confused than ever, Tae-joo stops by the hospital to visit 2018 Chief Ahn Min-sik at his office. Chief Ahn invites him inside and Tae-joo asks if there are any side-effects to his surgery. He explains that he’s been seeing apparitions from his coma dream and Chief Ahn agrees that it’s possible for brain surgery patients to experience delirium and hallucinations.

Chief Ahn reasons that Tae-joo’s dream was a product of his subconscious distorting memories from his traumatic childhood. The “apparitions” he saw there were created from his memories and pain as a sort of defense mechanism.

Tae-joo points out that all the people he met had actually existed, but Chief Ahn asserts that dreams are influenced by the subconscious. In short, if those people were real, Tae-joo had to have interacted with them in some way prior to the dream—passed them on the street, or seen them on TV or in the newspaper.

Thinking over the conversation back at home, Tae-joo’s eyes fall on the cold case files on his desk. Rifling through, he pulls out a report on the Hangbok Welfare Center incident and recalls the current Insung police chief saying that when he looked into the people Tae-joo had requested, he’d been told Tae-joo already had the information.

Turns out, Tae-joo had pulled the documents a few months ago with the intention of investigating unsolved cases. A flashback shows Tae-joo poring over documents on the Hangbok Welfare Center—as well as the Seobu Gang incident where the team died—shortly before his accident.

That’s when ex-fiancée Seo-hyun had approached him for help on Kim Min-seok’s case and commented that Tae-joo must’ve wanted to return to the field (because he was looking into cold cases). Realization hits and Chief Ahn’s words echo in Tae-joo’s ears, “All the things that you see are hallucinations that are created from your subconscious.”

Tae-joo thinks back to his first meeting with Dong-chul and the others and how those relationships had deepened over his time there. It’s too much and Tae-joo fumbles for the antidepressants Chief Ahn prescribed, choking one back.

That night, Tae-joo has fitful dreams of his last moments in 1988 where Na-young cries out desperately for him to save them as the gangsters attack. Jolting awake, Tae-joo sits up and his snowy TV emits Na-young’s desperate radio call.

Before he has the chance to process, however, Tae-joo’s phone rings. The TV cuts to a “no signal” screen and Tae-joo answers the call, greeting his mother on the other line.

He drives over and Aunt runs out to greet him. She fusses over him affectionately as Mom looks on with a smile, and then they all go inside. Tae-joo gapes at the feast Mom has prepared and Aunt gushes that she and Mom were at the market all morning getting all the freshest ingredients.

When the meal is over, Tae-joo finds Mom tending to her plants on the balcony. She worries about him going to work tomorrow rather than resting a few more days, but Tae-joo assures her he’s rested enough.

Mom laughs that Aunt no longer seems interested in marriage—she just likes living with Mom. That’s why Mom moved here, and now she feels she has someone to rely on and laugh with. Tae-joo smiles, saying he’s happy to hear it but Mom perceptively notices something is bothering him.

“There are people who are in need of my help,” Tae-joo admits, “But I wasn’t able to help them.” He tells Mom they’re waiting, but he can’t reach them and he doesn’t know what to do.

Smiling gently, Mom echoes Na-young’s words to just close his eyes and listen to his heart. A genuine smile spreads across Tae-joo’s face and he tells her she just reminded him of someone. Mom guesses it’s a girl, noting that it’s been a long time since he’s smiled like that. Hee.

Taking Tae-joo’s hand, Mom tells him that she just wants him to be happy and that she’s on his side, no matter what. Aunt calls Mom inside to watch TV, but Tae-joo remains on the balcony, lost in thought.

At the Seoul Metro Police Agency, Tae-joo reports to his new position as captain of the Violent Crimes Unit 1. Seo-hyun drops by to congratulate him and check how he’s doing. He assures her he’s not sick, but Seo-hyun argues that he doesn’t look happy.

She points out that it was his desire to return to field work and Tae-joo agrees, but his expression remains lackluster, despite his efforts to look happy. “I’ve had the feeling that something was strange for quite a while,” Seo-hyun huffs, crossing her arms, “When you recovered, you didn’t seem like the same person.”

She recalls he seemed out of place after waking up, like he’d returned to the wrong place. “You felt like a stranger to me,” she says. She starts to ask about his dream, but before Tae-joo can answer, a team member peeks his head in to say everything’s ready to start the meeting.

Seo-hyun excuses herself and good-naturedly shoots down Tae-joo’s promise to call, saying she won’t answer. However, she does want him to be happy and implores him to smile more—she’d heard he smiled a lot as a kid. “I wish I could see you smile,” Seo-hyun says at last, and then she leaves.

The unit starts their meeting and a detective briefs the others on the current case. Tae-joo listens absently, twirling a small metal plate in his hand. The detective plays a phone call recording, but instead of the victim, it’s Na-young’s voice that rings out.

Tae-joo shoots out of his seat as Na-young’s voice is swapped for Dong-chul demanding that he hurry, and finally Nam-shik’s frantic cries. The other detectives cautiously address Tae-joo and he asks for the recording to be replayed… but this time it’s an unknown woman fearfully telling a dispatch officer she’s being followed.

No one is really listening though, because they’re all looking warily at Tae-joo. Finally the presenting detective asks if Tae-joo’s all right, pointing at Tae-joo’s hand that has been grasping the metal plate so tightly that it’s drawn blood.

Tae-joo stares at his bloody hand with a dazed expression. “I can’t… feel a thing,” he mutters, and then turns and walks out of the room. He ends up on the roof and remembers that Na-young had talked him down before. She’d held his hand to her heart to prove they were alive and he presses his palm against his own chest now.

Tae-joo:“I had a dream. In that dream, I met people who are no longer alive now. But… could it really have been a dream… or could it be that I’m still in a dream?”

Tae-joo takes a step forward and as scenes of his friends in 1988 being beaten by the gangsters flash through his mind, he starts to run and finally takes a leap off the roof…

Right back into 1988! Tae-joo holds Chief Ahn’s gun out as he races towards the horde of gangsters and fires off three shots. One gangster is hit in the leg and collapses to the ground while the others take a step back.

Still holding the firearm, Tae-joo orders the gangsters to drop their weapons. One member tries to rush him, but without even a second’s hesitation Tae-joo plants a bullet in the man’s shoulder. His message comes across loud and clear and weapons clank to the cement floor as the men raise their hands in surrender.

Dong-chul grumbles at Tae-joo for taking so long while backup finally arrives and officers arrest the gang members. Yong-ki checks on Nam-shik while Tae-joo kneels next to Na-young. He apologizes for taking so long and they all rise to their feet.

The officers drag all the gangsters away while the team shambles out of the warehouse. Tae-joo confirms to Dong-chul that Chief Ahn is responsible for everything and Dong-chul gripes that he never liked that guy. He barks out an order to call for backup since Chief Ahn couldn’t have gotten far, but only manages a few more steps before crumpling to the ground.

Manager Park checks Dong-chul over at the clinic and assures the anxious group that he’ll be just fine. When Yong-ki continues to whine, Manager Park snaps, “He won’t die! His head is much harder than yours.” Hee.

He tells them the injuries Dong-chul suffered were actually quite minor and he just passed out from all the stress. Unfortunately for Manager Park, the chaos has just begun as Dong-chul’s mother-in-law bustles into the room, Dong-chul’s wife and daughter in her wake.

Assuming Dong-chul is dead, the women immediately start caterwauling. His wife smacks at his body, simultaneously sobbing and berating him for getting himself killed. Manager Park attempts to interject, but Mother-in-law has already switched gears and grumbles that she shouldn’t have approved the marriage.

The team listens awkwardly as Mother-in-law declares it’s not too late and suggests that her daughter hook up with a man from her past. Dong-chul’s daughter stops crying to ask if she’s talking about that rich man and when Mother-in-law nods, the daughter mutters that she’s not against the idea.

All their tittering stirs Dong-chul and he sits up grouchily, scaring the daylights out of the women. Mother-in-law fusses over him in disbelief and his daughter hugs him tightly. He barks that they must want him dead and when his daughter denies it, he tells her to go say that to her new rich daddy. Hehe.

Dong-chul’s wife starts smacking him for faking dead and Dong-chul whimpers that he almost died. The team watches with bemused expressions as the wife lets loose, only muttering, “Please, stop” when Dong-chul begs them to help.

Afterwards, Tae-joo sits with Dong-chul and snickers. Dong-chul snaps at him to stop laughing and says that Tae-joo’s marriage will be the same. They sober when Dong-chul asks about Chief Ahn, but he’s still at large.

Yong-ki and Nam-shik jog in and report that Chief Ahn showed up at the docks, trying to charter a boat. To Tae-joo’s horror, Dong-chul rips out his IV (ouch) and declares that he’s going to catch Chief Ahn with his own hands. “A police officer shouldn’t be afraid to die at the scene!” he shouts and runs out of the room.

Tae-joo’s handcuffs—that he’d used on Chief Ahn—are found discarded at the docks. Dong-chul asks Yong-ki for the name of the boat Chief Ahn cut a deal with and then draws the others in to tell them his plan of attack.

Later, Chief Ahn runs down to the dock but is quickly hounded by an army of officers. He breaks into a sprint and manages to leap onto the boat, shouting for the captain to hurry. To his dismay, Dong-chul emerges from inside and chides him for trying to escape. He then proceeds to pound on Chief Ahn while the other officers, including Tae-joo, look on.

Down in the interrogation room, Chief Ahn refuses to speak. Tae-joo plays the tape Detective Shin had secretly recorded of Chief Ahn admitting to killing Chief Kim and framing Dong-chul, before he’s heard shooting Detective Shin as well. Chief Ahn smirks and Dong-chul flies over the table at him.

Hoisting Chief Ahn up by his collar, Dong-chul growls that he should beg the judge to keep him in jail because the minute Chief Ahn is out, he’s dead meat. Chief Ahn remains silent so Dong-chul drops him to the ground and storms out.

Tae-joo comes upstairs to report that Chief Ahn won’t talk. Luckily, Dong-chul found the ledger of various police officers’ dirty dealings with Insung Construction that Detective Shin had hidden. Na-young says that Chief Kim had probably tried to pressure Chief Ahn with the book when he wasn’t promoted, as expected.

Along with the recording, Tae-joo says they have enough evidence on Chief Ahn to hand him over to prosecution. A couple officers escort Chief Ahn to a police car for transport, but he tries once more to appeal to Tae-joo. He warns Tae-joo that if he goes to prison, Tae-joo will never go home.

“Think about it,” Chief Ahn implores, “I’m the only person who could help you here.” Tae-joo opens his mouth, but his reply is cut off by Dong-chul telling Chief Ahn to shove it. He gripes that Chief Ahn sure is talkative now and tells the officers to take him away.

As the car pulls out, Dong-chul asks Tae-joo what Chief Ahn wanted. “I couldn’t care less,” Tae-joo replies, “Don’t worry about it.” The car starts turning out of the parking lot and they both send Chief Ahn an obscene gesture… except Tae-joo flips the bird and is immediately embarrassed because Dong-chul doesn’t recognize it.

That evening, the team drops in on their favorite haunt like a bunch of gangsters. They inform the barman (whose name is Mr. Yang) that they’ll be having dinner there but he deadpans that they should go to another establishment. Dong-chul whips out an envelope full of cash and Mr. Yang asks what they want to eat.

As soon as Mr. Yang walks away, they drop the act and giddily take their seats. While Mr. Yang grills their beef, Dong-gul toasts the team. After they throw those back, Yong-ki respectfully offers to pour Tae-joo a drink and the others look on proudly as the two awkwardly toast each other. Aww.

Dong-chul suggests that Yong-ki sing a song, so he and Nam-shik jump up and start dancing. Na-young pulls Dong-chul up to join them and Tae-joo watches the others dance around like fools with a grin on his face. Mr. Yang comments that it’s the first time he’s seen Tae-joo smile like that, and says it’s nice.

Na-young comes back and urges Tae-joo to join them. The other three beckon from the dance floor and he eventually gives in. Though his moves may be a bit tentative and stiff, Tae-joo’s smile is genuine as he sings along with his friends.

The party winds down and everyone spills out onto the street. Dong-chul steers Yong-ki and Nam-shik in one direction, but Nam-shik runs back to bid Tae-joo and Na-young goodnight. He eyes them suspiciously for a moment, but then shakes it off and runs back to the other men, who’ve disappeared around a bend.

Na-young starts to excuse herself, but to her surprise Tae-joo offers to take her home. She can barely contain her joy and practically skips after him. As they walk, Na-young tentatively broaches the topic of Tae-joo leaving, wondering when he plans to go. Without missing a beat, Tae-joo answers that he isn’t.

Stunned, Na-young asks why and Tae-joo stops to face her. “Because I’ve grown fond of this place,” he says. Smiling shyly, Na-young says that’s a relief and Tae-joo blurts out that if she ever has the time, they should go see the movie they never had the chance to see (from the tickets she gave him forever ago). Na-young replies that she’d like that and then runs home, while Tae-joo watches with a smile.

The next morning, Tae-joo arrives at the station to find Na-young, Nam-shik, and Yong-ki fussing over the paper. Joining them, Tae-joo sees that Ahn Min-shik’s case has made headlines and Dong-chul’s picture is in the paper.

Dong-chul appears behind them and grumbles at Reporter Bae’s photography skills, but his expression is clearly pleased. Yong-ki wonders if Dong-chul will receive a promotion and although he’s intrigued by the idea, Dong-chul snaps that detectives should catch culprits out of a sense of duty, not for greedy ambition.

He adds that he also just likes being captain and Nam-shik innocently asks if he should inform HR not to promote him, then. Dong-chul snipes that Nam-shik has grown up and then asks Na-young if she would make him some coffee.

Turning to do so, Na-young is stopped by another officer delivering some paperwork. When she opens the folder, she freezes. Tae-hyun notices her odd reaction and asks what’s wrong, but she doesn’t answer. She doesn’t respond to Dong-chul either, so Nam-shik takes the folder.

It’s a transfer notice for Tae-joo to return to Seoul and Dong-chul asks if he requested it. Tae-joo is as shocked as the rest of them and denies any involvement, but no one is convinced. Yong-ki mutters accusingly that it doesn’t make sense for him to be transferred without asking for it and Na-young won’t even look at him.

That night, Tae-joo sits in his house and stares at the transfer notice. A knock behind him alerts Tae-joo to Dong-chul’s presence. When asked how he got in, Dong-chul replies the front door was unlocked and wonders if Tae-joo was waiting for someone. He guesses Na-young but Tae-joo just looks away sadly.

Dong-chul came bearing gifts of chicken and alcohol and he digs in, laughing heartily at the TV while Tae-joo silently sips soju. Finally, Tae-joo speaks, guessing that Dong-chul came in order to tell him something. Dong-chul denies it and Tae-joo wonders if he got kicked out again. Hee.

Sitting up, Dong-chul barks that he’s not a stray cat and Tae-joo asks why is he here, then. “I was just passing by and dropped in. Can’t I do that?” Dong-chul asks, and Tae-joo can’t argue. Sighing, Tae-joo muses that this will likely be his last chance to go home.

Dong-chul stares at him for a beat and then agrees, noting that getting transferred to Seoul from the countryside is a rarity. He wonders why Tae-joo doesn’t look happy though, and points out that it’s ultimately Tae-joo’s choice.

The evening alarm blares and Dong-chul remembers he was supposed to bring his wife soy sauce. Tae-joo stands to see him out and Dong-chul says he never told Tae-joo thank you. “I would’ve died without you,” Dong-chul tells him, “Thank you, Tae-joo.” He pats the young detective on the back, wishing him luck in Seoul, and takes his leave.

The next morning, Tae-joo watches a bunch of kids run past and he flashes back through his time here in 1988, bonding with the team and healing old scars. The memories bring a smile to his lips.

At the station, Tae-joo stops Na-young as she rushes by, but freezes up, unsure of what to say. She says if he doesn’t have something to tell her, she’ll return to work and walks away. Behind her, Dong-chul makes eye contact from his desk for a moment, but returns to his paperwork. Yong-ki also eyes Tae-joo but turns away without saying anything.

Nam-shik is the only one to address him, and asks if Tae-joo has finished packing. Tae-joo says he hasn’t and Yong-ki grunts that he should hurry up already—he’s making them restless. A call comes in and Nam-shik informs the team that a body has been discovered, apparently belonging to a member of the Seobu Gang.

Yong-ki wonders if it was internal strife and Dong-chul vows to clear the gang out of their town. Dong-chul orders Yong-ki and Nam-shik to get ready and tells Na-young to call in forensics and a backup team. Tae-joo waits expectantly but when Dong-chul turns to him, he hesitates and then leaves.

Everyone follows and Tae-joo takes a step to join them but stops when the TV flickers on. He turns to look at the snowy screen and Doctor Jang’s voice addresses him while an apparition of the doc appears behind him.

Doctor Jang asks if Tae-joo is happy, or if he’s still confused whether this place is a dream or reality. Tae-joo doesn’t answer and Doctor Jang tells him the answer is simple: “The place you can live with a smile… is your reality.”

Tae-joo walks past him and follows his team outside. Na-young is telling Dong-chul that backup is unavailable and Nam-shik adds that it’s due to the Olympics. Yong-ki spots Tae-joo and says there’s no point in accompanying them, as he’s leaving soon. Dong-chul agrees that there’s a lot to prepare, but Tae-joo refuses.

“I’ll come with you,” he says, pulling out the transfer notice and tearing it up. Nam-shik warns him that he’ll be disciplined for ripping it up, but Tae-joo is unfazed. Dong-chul smiles and Nam-shik cheerfully asks if this means Tae-joo’s here to stay.

Tae-joo nods and Yong-ki calls him inconsistent, but he’s smiling too and steps aside for Tae-joo to ride shotgun. Dong-chul tells Na-young to get in the car as well. She’s taken aback, but he points out that she needs field work experience.

Everyone happily piles in and Dong-chul shouts, “This car is Back to the Future!” before peeling out of the parking lot.

As they’re driving, Tae-joo’s ears begin to ring and Chief Ahn calls out to him desperately from the radio. Tae-joo looks over at his oblivious car-mates and turns the volume down. Dong-chul questions him and Tae-joo replies that he just didn’t want to hear it.

Dong-chul tsks and switches the station, turning the volume back up on an energetic pop song. Everyone rolls down their windows, so Tae-joo follows suit and when the others start bobbing their heads he awkwardly tries to imitate their movements. Finally he starts singing along and his face breaks into a smile as they drive into their future.

EPILOGUE

On another day, Tae-joo sits alone in the office finishing up paperwork. He grabs his jacket and starts to leave when the phone rings. He picks up and waits for someone to speak but there’s only silence. Finally he asks, “Hello?” and a familiar voice answers, “Hello, Chief Han Tae-joo. It’s been a long time.” The man wonders if Tae-joo has forgotten his voice, but Tae-joo smirks and calls him by name—Kim Hyun-seok.

 
COMMENTS

I can’t believe it’s already over! Although, that epilogue does leave it open if they ever wanted to pursue Tae-joo’s adventures in this new timeline he’s created. Or is it a new timeline? Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure whether he time-traveled, warped to an alternate reality, or if he’s really just running around in an extremely realistic coma dream. I love the twist that he’d been researching those cases before his accident, filling in a few coma theory holes and throwing Tae-joo back into the “What is real/what is a dream?” dilemma once more. I actually like how it’s left somewhat open for interpretation, but I prefer the alternate reality theory, so I’m going to stick with that for my own peace of mind.

I’m so glad Tae-joo was able to return to 1988, because that’s truly where he belongs. He’s happy there, and it really goes to show how miserable he was before, by the way everyone reacted to the “new” Tae-joo that woke up from the coma. His time in 1988 helped him heal long-forgotten scars and become the happier, healthier person he deserves to be. I feel a bit sad to leave Mom and Aunt behind, but that scene when he visited them really felt like closure. Mom let him know that she had Aunt and she was going to be okay, and gave him permission to do whatever he needed in order to be happy (while also giving her seal of approval for the girl who could make stoic Tae-joo grin like a fool).

After returning to 1988 (and solving the immediate problem of saving his friends’ lives), I love how Tae-joo melted into that life. He finally stopped restraining himself and while he’s still a little awkward (the guy needs to get some groove, that head twitch looked painful!), he’s showing his expressions more openly, he took a solid step in forming a relationship with Yong-ki, and he asked Na-young on a date! And how cute was it when his transfer notice came in and everyone was salty? The smiles on all their faces when he ripped it up were so genuine and heartwarming, and I’m crying bittersweet tears to see them all go.

I want to give major props to all the cast and crew for doing such an amazing job from start to finish. Especially Jung Kyung-ho, who somehow made me forget he wasn’t an emotionally stunted cinnamon roll that didn’t even know how to smile (despite watching him play multiple goofy characters over the years). I’ve always adored him but this character really highlighted how skilled he is as an actor. Everyone did such a great job. I love all the characters so dearly and wish them all the best on their journey. The only upside to seeing this gem of a show come to a close is that now I can finally go back and watch the original BBC version! I hope y’all had as much fun with this as I did. Until we meet again on our next drama adventure!

 
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