Pride and Prejudice [Korean] keeps the suspense going
P&P loves gotcha endings. Two episodes in a row now have ended with me yelling at the screen, “What? Really? Impossible!” And for totally different reasons.
Though the plotlines here are continuations of larger narratives, the episode also tells a self-contained story about wrapping up Cha Yoon-Hee’s suicide case. And in a kind of symmetry, the hour both starts and ends with Yeol-Moo and Dong-Chi alone talking about Han Byul’s death. Yeol asks Dong-Chi a difficult question in the first scene, “Was my brother scared?” And though the question is the most upsetting one she could choose—for Dong-Chi and for the audience—surprisingly he answers it in the last scene.
Interesting that Yeol Moo reacts so calmly to Dong-Chi’s surprise kiss. I didn’t expect her to simply cross-examine him like a witness. I did expect her to get upset, because that’s the usual K-drama formula. But she doesn’t get angry at him and she also doesn’t act upset—or moved in any way—when she leaves the office. Did this kiss have strangely sedative powers? Or is she starting to accept that she might have to look elsewhere for revenge?
I’m not sure how Yeol-Moo’s calm at the start of the episode fits with her anger up until now. All that rage has to go somewhere. Maybe her remaining anger actually goes into maintaining that calm of hers. If Dong-Chi wants to provoke her, then Yeol-Moo’s icy response is pretty cruel, as if she wants to show she’s not susceptible to his charms. (But she has to be, right?) And the painful question she immediately asks isn’t letting him off the hook. Even if she’s willing to believe he was a witness, not a killer, she still wants to examine every possibility that he’s guilty of something. We can see how deep her own guilty feelings must run. She accuses Dong-Chi partly because she’s accused herself for years. But she’s at least moving toward seeing Dong-Chi as no more guilty than she is.
Another form of progress in this episode: we move into deeper legal waters with suspect Song Ah-Reum hinting at wrong-doing in high government circles. The show has been suggesting for some time that the investigation of Han Byul’s death was badly handled. But now we have hints of a high-level cover-up related to the recent case of serial killer Panda.
In real life, Koreans consider the Prosecutors’ Office a corrupt institution. A survey two years ago asked Koreans to name the most crooked branch of government, and a majority named law enforcement—the police, Justice Ministry and Prosecutors’ Office. Many consider the Prosecutors’ Office to be working on behalf of the politically powerful. A bribery case two years ago just confirmed Koreans’ suspicions that Prosecutors turn a blind eye to crimes committed by the wealthy. This real world context makes the conflict between Director Moon and Prosecutor Koo more than entertainment. When Moon throws Kang-Soo under the bus to make himself look squeaky clean in episode 6, for instance, there are echoes of real-life scandals.
Even knowing that Director Moon is corrupt, it’s strange in this episode that he doesn’t want to learn more about a politically sensitive case. I would have thought he’d enjoy the opportunity to blackmail the wrongdoers, if nothing else.
When Moon admits later that he simply doesn’t want responsibility for the investigation, it makes more sense. That sounds like the real Moon. It’s amusing the way everyone in the office believes Dong-Chi will go ahead and investigate anyway, even Moon. And Dong-Chi, too, suspects that Moon might not mind if he uncovers good intel.
Presumably, if Moon really wanted to stop Dong-Chi from doing something, he would have have his sinister ways. I can’t imagine him simply throwing an angry fit and yelling—he knows Dong-Chi better than that by now. Still, every time the director yells at Dong-Chi, I wonder what will happen on the day Dong-Chi decides he’s had enough. Up till now, Dong-Chi puts up with the Dark Side of Moon in silence. But he still manages to convey his contempt, which makes Director Moon even angrier. Each episode edges Dong-Chi and Moon closer to open war, but each episode also finds them depending on each other more. I love seeing this conflict develop, especially because Choi Jin-Hyuk and Choi Min-Soo inhabit these characters so well.
Lastly, this episode sees Yeol-Moo finish the suicide case. The investigation connects to Byul’s death thematically. In fact, Yeol-Moo’s personal experience of losing her brother gives her insight into the case that no one else has. The case also forces Yeol-Moo to recognize that she doesn’t have the power to remedy every injustice. She has evidence that Cha Yoon-Hee committed suicide because of shame over sexual harassment from her boss—it’s implied that he coerced her into having sex in order to get a full-time job. (The case, by the way, gives a good example of sexual harassment the way lawyers define it.) But Yoon-Hee’s father takes settlement money from the boss rather than pursue a civil complaint that the boss caused Yoon-Hee’s suicide.
The dad’s decision makes sense. He needs the money and a legal case would be painful. But it isn’t easy for Yeol-Moo to take. She appears to mature during this episode as she realizes her own powerlessness. When we arrive at the final scene with Dong-Chi, it’s satisfying to hear her admit her disappointment in herself and her limits. And it’s that admission that leads Dong-Chi to share more about Han Byul’s death.
I was surprised by Dong Chi’s saying that the culprit was a prosecutor, but even more surprised by the sudden ominous music. Bum bum bum! These writers really love a dramatic cliffhanger! Because P&P steers clear of exaggeration most of the time, I had to laugh when they gave that melodramatic flourish of music at the end. It was a somewhat incongruous ending to a good scene. Similarly, the dialogue surrounding the kiss at the end of episode 6 felt less believable than the rest of the dialogue. Perhaps this is an unavoidable side effect of setting up a cliffhanger—a cliffhanger is a fun story element, but in real life we don’t take five day pauses in the middle of conversation, so it’s hard to write the dialogue for this kind of scene.
This episode was particularly strong for having a side helping of humor. The central love triangle appears in somewhat comic form, as Dong-Chi tries to show he knows Yeol-Moo better than Kang-Soo does—but Kang-Soo doesn’t get why Dong-Chi’s teasing him. A sequence of Prosecutor Lee’s latest attempts to avoid work was also hilarious. I hope the partnership between Lee and Detective Yoo continues to develop. Although Yoo Gwang-Mi failed the prosecutor’s exam three times, she appears more knowledgeable and competent than Prosecutor Lee. Even Chief Moon has noticed that she virtually does Lee’s job. How much longer will she have patience with Lee? When will she become a prosecutor herself? She’s clearly qualified.
But my favorite wry moment is when a phone call interrupts Moon in the middle of his yelling at Dong-Chi. Moon actually answers it. He has to clear his throat several times before he can speak and you can almost hear him thinking, “Damn, messed up my mellifluous speaking voice. Note to self: yell quieter.” Meanwhile, Dong-Chi takes advantage of the interruption to sigh and fan himself for a moment, as if he’s sweating buckets underneath his unruffled exterior. It’s a funny, down-to-earth moment that suggests the effort both men make to put on a macho show for each other.
Now that we’re a third of the way through the series, I feel confident it’s going to be complex and satisfying. The only thing I have minor concerns about is Baek Jin-Hee’s part. I’ve seen some viewers attack her acting skills or say she has no chemistry with Choi Jin-Hyuk. But if we look at the way her part is written, Baek Jin-Hee is simply playing Yeol-Moo as she’s supposed to.
It’s not uncommon for K-dramas to create male characters that are somewhat more well-rounded than female characters. But plenty of dramas avoid that trap. I haven’t given up hope that Yeol-Moo’s character will develop and show new sides of herself. Baek Jin-Hee appears plenty capable of rising to the challenge when the script asks her to do something more than act cold and grouchy. She’s an experienced actress who won praise earlier this year for “Empress Ki.” Fighting, Baek Jin-Hee!
The plotlines keep growing more complicated and satisfying. I can imagine so many possible directions for this to go. Which of our older prosecutors (or former prosecutors) do we think will be connected to Han Byul’s case? Moon? The seemingly harmless old Yoo? Or Kang-Soo’s beloved Jung Chang-Gi?