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Circle: Episode 5

After being led around in circles about who the villains may be, we get some solid answers at last! The momentum definitely slowed down a bit this episode, but it was a good break to let us catch our breaths and process all the information being thrown our way. As the mystery in Part 1: Beta Project is slowly being revealed, it seems like the intrigue in Part 2: Brave New World is only growing deeper.

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

Part 1: Beta Project

A student, PARK MIN-YOUNG (Jung In-sun), walks warily down the street, suspicious of every CCTV and phone camera. She pulls up her hood to avoid exposure, but that doesn’t stop two students from taking a selfie in front of her, leading her paranoid self to believe they’re recording her.

She arrives at the gates of Handam University, convinced that she’ll find the answers she’s looking for here. She beelines toward a public memorial shrine for one of the recently deceased students, and begins telling the people nearby that this is part of a series of murders, not an isolated suicide.

With her frantic eyes and rapid speech, it’s no wonder that the students, including Sunbae Lee, conclude that she’s a lunatic and begin taking photos of the spectacle she’s making of herself. Although she yells for them to stop, they keep clicking away, but just then, Bum-gyun steps in and shields her from the crowd with his jacket.

Bum-gyun tells her that he believes her and that he knows the culprit is an alien. As they escape underneath the protection of his jacket, the two introduce themselves in a sweet moment.

That was a while ago, and now Min-young insists to Woo-jin on the existence of aliens, and that Han Jung-yeon is one of them. When he becomes frustrated with her, much like how he was with Bum-gyun, she shows him a picture of Jung-yeon with a suitcase that has a little toy star on it. His eyes widen immediately—to him, this is proof that Jung-yeon is really the alien who lived with him and his brother when they were younger.

After leaving Min-young, Woo-jin returns to Jung-yeon, who’s waiting nearby, and grabs her by the shoulders to demand answers. He shows her a picture of himself as a child with his brother and that alien, Byul, and insists that Jung-yeon is that same alien.

However, plot twist: She has amnesia. Jung-yeon admits that she has no memories before the age of eighteen—she was in a car accident that left her in a coma for a year and caused her amnesia. She recognizes the resemblance to Byul but denies that it’s her, saying that there’s no way she would have looked like that ten years ago.

However, Woo-jin is firm in his belief that she wouldn’t age since she’s an alien. He tells her to smash the toy star if she really wants to confirm that she’s Byul. Jung-yeon angrily says that the star has meaning to her, and that he’s crazy if he thinks she’ll break it just for him to prove a point.

Woo-jin scoffs at the amnesia line, and that sets off her temper. She fires back that she’s undergoing psychotherapy for this, which is a source of pain for her. “This isn’t something you can carelessly mess with!” she screams.

Even so, doubts have been stirred regarding the backstory of her life that she’s been repeatedly told. Later that night she asks her father, Professor Han, how she came to have the star. He replies that she made it with her late mother in elementary school.

Almost immediately, she goes to Woo-jin’s house, where he’s still regretting not believing in his brother. Jung-yeon tells him that she’s confirmed with her father that the star is an object she made with her mother, and that it’s one of the few remaining possessions she has of her.

Woo-jin only tells her that he believed her over his own brother because he didn’t want to be pulled in by Bum-gyun’s alien conspiracies, but now he’s realized he should have listened to his twin.

The next day, Woo-jin puts on Bum-gyun’s “don’t-follow-me” baseball cap and surreptitiously follows Jung-yeon to her therapy session. He peers in through the window, only to find her in the hallway in front of him, knowing that he’s followed her trail. She tells him to stop being suspicious of her because it could be a series of unfortunate coincidences.

His response is to ask her how this could be coincidence for email handle to be bluebird. She says that Bluebird was her favorite storybook when she was younger, but he counters that bluebird was Byul’s first word. Again, he tells her to break open the star if she wants to verify the truth.

Woo-jin goes to the lab and takes advantage of it being empty to rifle through Professor Han’s desk before he’s almost caught by Sunbae Lee. He isn’t able to get any clues, and then Professor Han and Professor Park also arrive. Full of suspicions, Woo-jin just stands there awkwardly staring at the head professor until prompted by the younger professor to mind his manners.

Sunbae Lee is a huge suck-up to Professor Han, so Woo-jin decides to try to the other professor for information. He buys coffee for Professor Park, trying to butter him up to find out more about Jung-yeon’s supposed memory loss. However, just the mention of Jung-yeon’s memory loss stops Professor Park cold, and he shoves the cup of coffee back into Woo-jin’s hands.

Later, when Woo-jin secretly searches through Professor Han’s things again, he only finds a single father-daughter photo. However, on the desk there’s a pen with the Eun-sung Mental Hospital logo on it. He remembers that’s where Jung-yeon went last time to follow up on a lead before being attacked by Min-young.

He goes back to Eun-sung Mental Hospital, where he calls out to Min-young. She crawls out of her hiding place when he arrives, and she explains to him that a bright light flashed in the sky before someone kidnapped Bum-gyun. They explore the dark corridors, looking for more clues, and freak out when they’re caught up in a bright light. But it’s only Chief Hong, who is also there investigating the case.

Min-young’s taser makes Chief Hong assume she’s the culprit, but Woo-jin explains that she’s just a witness. Min-young jumps in and provides more details on her story, starting to talk about aliens and UFOs. At that point, Chief Hong hints to Woo-jin that he thinks Min-young may not be all there upstairs, but she whips out her student ID, shocking them both with the fact that she’s a medical student from a different university.

They search the spooky hallways together, when suddenly Woo-jin saves Min-young from stepping on broken glass—and mixed in with the glass is a pool of blood, still red and wet, indicating that it’s fresh.

The trio follow the trail of blood, slumping in disappointment when they come to a dead end. The men are skeptical when Min-young starts tapping the mirror mounted at the end of the hall, until the knocking betrays hollowness behind it.

They push the sliding mirror backward to reveal a secret passageway, and finally, that dank cell where we’d seen Bum-gyun being held captive. It’s empty now, with more fresh blood and signs of a struggle, and Woo-jin runs outside in hopes of catching up to the culprits.

Back at her house, Jung-yeon goes through her childhood belongings, including the bluebird storybook she was told she loved when she was younger. She notices a sticker on the front page, and when she peels it back, she discovers a child’s writing hidden underneath, which reads “Byul noona.” Seeing this, she immediately breaks open the toy star with an angry slam. Inside she discovers a scroll of paper and, written on it, “Byul ♥ Woo-jin.”

Woo-jin and Min-young race outside the abandoned mental hospital, and find an ambulance that wasn’t there before, with a bluebird logo on it. The ambulance starts to drive away, and Woo-jin takes off running after it, very nearly reaching its rear doors.

Woo-jin shouts out for his hyung, and a bloodied hand appears in the window. Then Bum-gyun’s face appears, and he shouts for his brother.

But the ambulance continues to speed along, and Woo-jin can’t keep up. He starts to fall behind as Bum-gyun is yanked back away from the window by an unseen force. He’s forced to stop running, and his brother is carried away.

Part 2: Brave New World

In the empty room where they once lived together, Joon-hyuk has an emotional breakdown, regretting not having listened to his brother Woo-jin when he expressed his burdens. Joon-hyuk reveals that he’s Bum-gyun, to the surprise of Jung-yeon (aka Bluebird), who watches from her surveillance screen, and Ho-soo, who spies at the door.

When Ho-soo reports back, Deputy Chief Lee reveals that he also knows who Bum-gyun is. As soon as Joon-hyuk leaves the premises, Jung-yeon texts him to meet at a predetermined location, and Ho-soo continues to follow him surreptitiously, on orders from Human B.

Joon-hyuk waits for a while in front of a merry-go-round in an empty amusement park until Jung-yeon shows up in person, not seeing that he’s being observed by Ho-soo, Chief Deputy Lee, and a group of Human B goons. But just as they start to discuss important matters like the location of Woo-jin, they’re interrupted by those Human B goons, who race toward them.

Jung-yeon tells Joon-hyuk that they need to split up in order not to get caught, and promptly runs away. She escapes to a small corner of the amusement park, where she sets up a temporary computer system that she uses to hack into the electric grid of the amusement park. She shuts down the power just in time, throwing everyone into darkness before they get to her.

It gives her a comfortable head start on an escape, but the goons are still in pursuit. Ho-soo drives up in his car and identifies himself, telling her to either come with him or go with Human B. She gets in the car, and it drives off just before the goons get to it.

When they’re safely away, Ho-soo gives her an ultimatum knowing that she’s the legendary hacker Bluebird: Block his memories again, or he’ll call Human B. She tells him to have Human B block his memories again, and he argues that she’s unblocking them without people’s permissions. She retorts that he’s willingly making this choice to forget, so she won’t do it for him. What she’s seeking to do is restore the memories of the Smart Earth citizens, thereby giving them back the ability to choose for themselves.

When Ho-soo asks her why she’s doing this, Jung-yeon answers that it’s because everything began with her. When she refuses again to do as he asks and erase his memory, Ho-soo hits the alert button on his phone to call Human B.

Jung-yeon pulls out her gun and levels it at Ho-soo’s head, keeping him frozen in place until she can safely escape.

Later, Deputy Chief Lee reveals to his secretary that he knows who Jung-yeon is because they went to university together. A memory of himself, Woo-jin, and Jung-yeon surfaces, revealing that he is Sunbae Lee. Aha!

When Chief Hong and Joon-hyuk debrief back at Ordinary Earth HQ, the younger detective says that he was surprised to learn that Bluebird was Jung-yeon; he had half-expected and half-hoped that Bluebird would be his brother. But now that it’s been outed to Human B that he’s acquainted with Bluebird, it’ll be harder to freely move around Smart Earth, which causes a round of sighs.

The woman doctor who performed surgery on Park Jin-gyu is revealed to be a grown-up Min-young. She sits by his bedside when he asks for a full recovery of his memories, and warns him that taking the Care Chip out in and of itself is a dangerous procedure. Even if it were successful, it would leave behind a scar.

She shows him the back of her ear, bearing a similar wound to Joon-hyuk’s. She explains that the wound isn’t recent, maybe 20 years old, and back then it wasn’t a Care Chip, it was a blue bug.

Detective Oh and Dong-soo chat outside the building, and the detective wonders about the latest gossip regarding the strange chemistry between Joon-hyuk and Dr. Min-young. When Dong-soo begins talking about their long-time sometimes friendly, sometimes familial relationship, Joon-hyuk walks up behind Detective Oh who expresses disbelief that there isn’t more going on between them.

He thinks it may be because Dr. Min-young is way more attractive than Joon-hyuk, and he begins rattling off his senior’s negative qualities. Dong-soo’s eyes grow wide, knowing that Joon-hyuk is right behind him, and he tries to mitigate the damage (at least for himself) by excessively complimenting all of Joon-hyuk’s qualities. They both end up being bopped on the head and scolded by Chief Hong.

Team Ordinary Earth gathers to discuss the Bluebird problem, and Joon-hyuk says that he may know someone who can get him back on Smart Earth, despite Human B’s attempts to limit his movements.

He means Mayor Yoon, and drops in to confer with him. He says pointedly that most Smart Earth citizens think that the mayor is the CEO of Human B, rather than the mayor of their city. Clearly, it touches a nerve, and Mayor Yoon gives Joon-hyuk permission to continue his investigation in Smart Earth, while also warning him that Ho-soo may be working for the other side.

Later, Mayor Yoon meets with Minister Park at a sushi restauarant, and we see that it’s a silver-haired Professor Park who’s clearly moved up several pay grades since 2017. In their small talk, the professor acts like the human trash he is, gloating about how he procured the rarest and most expensive organic fish through his connections, and how he finds it funny that Ordinary Earth kids color their skies yellow because they’ve never known a world otherwise (due to pollution that isn’t present on Smart Earth).

Mayor Yoon looks uncomfortable, but he forges on to make his request. Minister Park guesses his intent and emphasizes the incredible amount of money that is on the line, with all this foreign interest in the Human B system. The mayor points out that all the money in the world won’t be enough to solve the problem if this issue gets out.

The mayor therefore requests Minister Park to obtain a search warrant for him, so they can investigate the claims of Human B blocking people’s memories. After some considerable wrangling, Minister Park agrees when Mayor Yoon tells him that there have been criminal incidents occurring on Smart Earth (but I don’t trust his nefarious motives for giving the search warrant).

Deputy Chief Lee asks the chairman what to do after apprising him on the latest information that Bluebird is Jung-yeon. He receives a reply in an unintelligible robotic message, only understood by him.

Afterwards, he has a holographic meeting with Ho-soo, who thought that he would now be relieved of the troubling memories that are gradually returning to him. However, Deputy Chief Lee coerces Ho-soo into spying on Joon-hyuk a little longer. Although Ho-soo is angry, he realizes that they may keep using him until the end, he wants to rid himself of those memories so much that he acquiesces.

Staying true to his efforts, Ho-soo approaches Joon-hyuk the next morning and asks him out for a meal together. They’re about to leave when he receives a text from Human B, so he leaves after making his excuses to Joon-hyuk, saying that he has an emergency situation to deal with.

However, when he arrives at Human B, he realizes that the text was not sent by Deputy Chief Lee, which means that he was duped by Bluebird. He rushes out, back on his way to Joon-hyuk, who has just received a text from Bluebird.

It’s a picture of Woo-jin in March 2022, looking dapper in a suit at an art gallery. Joon-hyuk hears the doors slide open and Jung-yeon appears, getting to the point immediately: “Woo-jin is on Smart Earth.”

COMMENTS

Where could Woo-jin be? Option A: Lying comatose in a sterile Human B basement prison like Kim Tae-hee in Yong-pal. Option B: He’s the hermit CEO who has convinced himself that involuntary memory loss will save humankind from suffering. Option C: Dead but buried in Smart Earth, having been murdered during the Beta Project for getting to close to the truth. Option D: None of the above—he just commandeered Byul’s UFO and went to space for a while when catastrophe struck Earth. In any case, I just want some closure for Bum-gyun/Joon-hyuk, who always seems so close and yet so far from finally reuniting with his twin.

While I am interested in knowing what the end goal of Human B’s CEO is, it’s more of a cerebral curiosity that’s completely different from the gut-driven reactions I’m feeling in Part 1: Beta Project. Yeo Jin-gu is really shining in this drama as Woo-jin, and I knew he’d be fantastic but he’s outdoing even my expectations. In every shot, his expressions change constantly and display far more complex nuances than would be expected of most actors of his age and even many older. It’s actually fascinating because Kim Kang-woo, who is no lightweight actor himself, is actually paling in comparison in terms of raw emotional energy and committed delivery. However, on the comedic front, I think Kim Kang-woo, with all his years of experience, does have the cocky attitude and timing down flat which makes the second part enjoyable to watch as well.

In terms of the mystery, now we know for sure that the professors are up to no good, and that their first successful living, sentient subject was probably Jung-yeon/Byul. Professor Park obviously capitalized on his being at the right place and the right time, and became a wealthy public official. Meanwhile, Professor Han has not been seen in Part 2, so he could still be the unidentified chairman. And maybe he’d let Bluebird roam free to wreak havoc on the Human B system, out of some leftover fondness or guilt for his adopted alien daughter. We still have gotten nowhere with the Min-ji case though, and I wonder how it’s all related to Woo-jin’s disappearance.

There’s a tightness in the storytelling in the Beta Project that’s not present in Brave New World, and that may be one of the reasons that I’m more invested in 2017 Woo-jin’s story. There’s a clear past that’s driving the present, whereas the plot in Brave New World wanders, and the story arc has loose threads. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying the themes of corruption and conflicting corporate and public interests that are being shown to still be present in the utopian, pristine future of Smart Earth. For surely where people exist, there’s bound to be friction and clashing ideas that may lead to greed and pain but also leads to growth and hope. It’s just not natural—the Care Chips—removing what makes us essentially human: our emotions.

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