I can’t believe I almost dropped this show a month ago. Now that we’re at the halfway point, Kill Me, Heal Me has got its hooks into me deep. It’s my favorite kind of story, one where the characters keep getting more and more complicated.
I love that the writer and director take dissociative identity disorder simply as a starting point for what’s turning out to be fantastic Gothic fiction. It’s like Faulkner on kimchee-flavored acid. Cha Do-Hyun’s dramatic personality shifts feel almost supernatural and the series doesn’t try to bring us back to earth.
Episode 10 reminds me of that nineteenth-century Russian story about the man who discovers his job and apartment have been taken over by a man with his name who looks and acts exactly like him. Cha Do-Hyun has been terrified Shin Seki will ruin his life. But when Shin Seki takes over here, I can’t help thinking that Shin Seki might be better at living Do-Hyun’s life than Do-Hyun is.
I’m a charter member of Team Cha Do-Hyun, so I was worried about Shin Seki’s reappearance. But as much as I miss Cha Do-Hyun, it’s enormously satisfying to see Shin Seki confront his enemies in this episode. First love Chae-Yeon, cousin Ki-Joon, his mother and even grandmother—everyone gets to hear what Shin Seki really thinks.
And the director is handling the melodramatic plot with exactly the right amount of seriousness. We have a lot of intense emotions—especially from Shin Seki, who feels Oh Ri-Jin has betrayed him by falling for Cha Do-Hyun (above, right). He swears to destroy everything Cha Do-Hyun has built up, so that his dutiful alter ego won’t return. But we also have moments of humor (above, left).
The confrontation between Shin Seki and his cousin is the funniest scene, because Shin Seki’s devil-may-care attitude is so different from Cha Do-Hyun’s conscientiousness. Shin Seki has no idea what his duties at the company are, but fortunately he doesn’t care. While his cousin talks, Shin Seki’s day-dreaming and scribbling down notes like “I love Oh Ri-Jin.”
What Shin Seki does understand well is people. When Secretary Ahn presents Cha Ki-Joon with Omega’s contract, Shin Seki can see Ki-Joon’s angry that Do-Hyun succeeded. It’s impossible not to enjoy Shin Seki’s bad attitude in the exchange that follows. He not only insults his cousin, but explicitly states that he’s insulting him, in case Ki-Joon isn’t educated enough to get it, he says (above).
After watching Ki-Joon taunt Cha Do-Hyun so many times, it’s a thrill to see Ki-Joon getting a bit of his own treatment. To make it even worse for him, his secretary can’t shut up about how cool Cha Do-Hyun is suddenly acting.
Other confrontations are scarier. I was particularly uncomfortable when Shin Seki sweet-talked his way into Chae-Yeon’s apartment late at night. Chae-Yeon reminds him that he told her not to let him in. “But what makes you think I’m going to cross the line?” Shin Seki says, as he worms his way through the door. “I’m just visiting for a glass of wine with a friend.”
We don’t see any more until Shin Seki leaves the apartment a couple hours later. After he leaves, Chae-Yeon is in her kitchen washing wine glasses. She drops one and it shatters. Though we don’t know how far Shin Seki went with her—and he pointedly refuses to tell—we’re left with the impression that she’s emotionally wrecked by his visit.
He’s ready to ruin his relationship with his mother as well—though Shin Seki would say he doesn’t have a relationship with her to begin with. Cha Do-Hyun is vague and non-confrontational around Shin Hwa-Ran. It’s hard to tell if he dislikes her or simply doesn’t know her. But Shin Seki shows real hatred for her when he interrupts her tête-a-tête with Oh Ri-Jin (above).
His outburst to Oh Ri-Jin gives us new insights into the mystery of the basement. “For abuse to happen, there has to be a witness,” Shin Seki says. I’m not sure about this definition of abuse, but his meaning is clear: he sees Shin Hwa-Ran as guilty of watching abuse and allowing it to continue. Since then, she’s been blackmailing Chairwoman Seo with her knowledge of what really happened.
This scene is also important because Oh Ri-Jin innocently asks Hwa-Ran if she knows anything about the year Cha Do-Hyun was seven, the year he doesn’t remember. All Oh Ri-Jin knows is that he can’t remember, and based on his recent nightmare, she wonders if he was close friends with another kid at the time. Hwa-Ran puts together the question together with Shi Seki’s protective outburst and starts to wonder if Oh Ri-Jin was connected to past events.
The best-deserved smack-down goes to Chairwoman Seo, aka The Grandmother Least Likely to Bake You Chocolate Chip Cookies (below). Shin Seki is pure sarcasm and bitterness as he tells grandma he’s doing what she told him: staying quiet, never saying anything, never doing anything, trying not to exist.
But then he threatens her with his memories of the past. He brazenly asks her for control of the Seung Jin Group. (Is any secret worth an entire chaebol conglomerate? How evil a secret does it have to be?)
What makes this scene extra creepy is how the giant portrait of grandfather Cha looms over Shin Seki and his grandmother. We know so little about him, but Shin Seki looks at the portrait meaningfully a couple times in episode 10. Somehow the grandfather—who died in the accident with his daughter-in-law—plays a significant part in understanding the past.
Another absent character is haunting the Chairwoman as well—her son Joon-Pyo, Shin Seki’s father. Shin Seki is cruel on the subject of his father, asking why Chairwoman Seo can’t let him go. After so many years in a coma, why can’t she accept he won’t come back? He picks up Joon-Pyo’s framed photo on the desk and drops it to the floor.
The Chairwoman’s looks horrified and desperate as she kneels to pick up the shards of glass and the photo. Something about her expression suggests her love for Joon-Pyo is more than maternal. At the very least, she’s obsessed and irrational where her son is concerned. This could partly explain why she keeps moving her son between nursing homes so that only she knows his location.
As if this episode didn’t already have enough strong scenes, we also get Oh Ri-On’s memorable first encounter with Shin Seki—and Oh Ri-On’s bossy insistence that Oh Ri-Jin come home.
Oh Ri-On was angry when Oh Ri-Jin lied to him and his parents, and he was angry that she was living in Cha Do-Hyun’s house. But curiously, only in this episode does he think through everything and realize that Cha Do-Hyun has DID (above). It appears Ri-On was telling the truth before, when he said he thought Perry Park was just a rich guy’s eccentric camouflage.
But he remembers his sister mentioning a man who couldn’t control his changing alter egos. He recalls Cha Do-Hyun’s wildly varying behavior on the plane, and puts it together with his knowledge that there was a family tragedy.
Why did it take Oh Ri-On till now? Wasn’t Cha Do-Hyun weird enough on the airplane? I think the answer is that Oh Ri-Jin has always assumed Cha Do-Hyun was living a charmed life, unaffected by the past. He resents Cha Do-Hyun, not necessarily for hurting his sister, because Do-Hyun was a child 21 years ago, but for living happily ever after.
Oh Ri-On is shocked to realize he’s been resenting someone who is, in fact, much more damaged than Oh Ri-Jin. But even if he shows remote glimmerings of sympathy for Cha Do-Hyun, he’s alarmed by DID and wants his sister to immediately quit the case.
Oh Ri-On’s full of annoying masculine self-righteousness as he drags her off, but he’s not so different from most people when serious mental illness is concerned. He chiefly knows DID is scary. Ironically, he says he could even understand her lying to him and moving in with a single man, but he can’t leave her there after realizing DID is involved.
When Shin Seki challenges him, Oh Ri-On is puzzled and cautious. He can recognize that the person in front of him isn’t exactly Cha Do-Hyun, but he isn’t sure who he is either. And Shin Seki is observant. He immediately asks if Oh Ri-On’s her real brother. And he doesn’t mince words. “If you claim rights as her brother, and keep looking at her with the eyes of a man, I’ll carve your eyeballs out.”
Oh Ri-On has a reply. “You have less right than me, because you’re a son of Seung Jin Group.” Touché. As brother and sister drive away, Oh Ri-Jin asks Oh Ri-On what he said to make Shin Seki look so sad. She watches him disappear in the rear-view mirror (below).
This scene is as melancholy as it is tense. Oh Ri-On and Shin Seki both have reasons they shouldn’t be in love with Oh Ri-Jin. The long shadows suggest it’s just before sunset. The director uses my favorite bit of incidental music in the series, a rhythmic piano piece full of sad, minor chords.
The two men also know secrets about each other. Shin Seki has good reason to ask if Ri-On is Ri-Jin’s brother, because Shin Seki’s memories say otherwise. Seki can spot that Ri-On’s in love with his sister because he knows Ri-On isn’t really her brother.
But Ri-On also knows things. When he reminds Shin Seki that he’s a son of the Seung Jin Group, he says it like he’s dropping a bomb. Does he mean that the Seung Jin Group rejected Oh Ri-Jin, and he intends to protect her from them? Or is he alluding to the possibility that Shin Seki and Ri-On are related to each other?
Ri-On didn’t try to bring Ri-Jin home in episode 9, when he knew she was helping someone from the Seung Jin Group. Only after making the DID connection did he worry she was in danger. While he fears the chaebol family, he fears the illness more.
And this raises the question, does someone else in Cha Do-Hyun’s family live with mental illness? Ri-On has done research on mental illness while learning about the Seung Jin Group, or so the notes on his bulletin board suggest. Is it possible a mental illness was wrapped up with the tragedy in the past? That might explain Oh Ri-On’s fears.
Oh Ri-Jin gets shoved around a lot in this episode (above, left), by Shin Seki and Oh Ri-On, but I think she’ll come back swinging. Twice this episode she asks Shin Seki the most important question (above, right): is she in his memories of the past? He keeps refusing to answer, perhaps because the truth will cause her pain. But his silence tells her she has to keep investigating.
Every time Shin Seki says that “that bastard Cha Do-Hyun’s not coming back,” I feel a little pain. Shin Seki says Cha Do-Hyun can’t handle his memories, but he can’t be entirely sure. He’s making an effort to ruin Cha Do-Hyun’s life so that Do-Hyun won’t want to come back—which means there’s hope.
What makes Shin Seki so compelling here is that he’s convinced his own survival depends on destroying Cha Do-Hyun. Shin Seki shows a bit of uncharacteristic restraint in this episode—he doesn’t run out to a nightclub and get wasted and instead causes more subtle trouble by going to work at ID. But he’s still unrestrained when it comes to his hatred for Cha Do-Hyun. Even if Cha Do-Hyun can stop thinking of himself as a monster, I don’t know if Shin Seki can.
I was firmly Team Cha Do-Hyun going into episode 10, but by the end I’m wavering. Shin Seki isn’t really going to turn off his father’s life support, right? And if he’s being a jerk to everyone in his family, it’s because they deserve it, right? And if he won’t discuss things with Ri-Jin, it’s because he’s afraid she’s going to try to get rid of him, right?
Ji Sung is really messing with my mind here. Back in episode one, Shin Seki really didn’t have any redeeming qualities. But now he’s looking very human and relatively sympathetic, and I don’t want him to disappear either.
Kill Me, Heal Me originally had a ridiculously difficult time nailing down a leading man. The series only started shooting two weeks before air date, which explains why the first and second episodes are less enjoyable than the others.
It’s looking like destiny now, though, because Ji Sung is killing this part—or rather these parts. Kill Me, Heal Me doesn’t offer the gimmick of showing his face twice on the posters, the way Hyde, Jekyll, Me shows Hyun Bin as first and second lead. But Ji Sung’s playing the two parts equally well, and now I think he’s convinced me to root for both of them equally.
Please come back, Cha Do-Hyun! Please don’t leave, Shin Seki!