Circle: Episode 8
The villains may be motivated as much by a misguided desire to help people as they are for personal gain, but in either case, Jung-yeon is determined not to let herself be used for their purposes. One brother helps her come to terms with her identity in the present, while the other fights against the bigger evil in the future, both driven to fight despite impossible odds.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
It’s 2008, and Professor Park walks into Kim Kyu-chul’s house, which was rented to him by his colleague, Professor Han. While the men chat, an unobtrusive camera hidden in a tiny star on the ceiling scans Professor Park and tags him as someone without authorization. Professor Park hands a small box full of blue worms to Kim Kyu-chul, asking why he wanted to see them. Kim Kyu-chul reassures him that it’s only curiosity, which seems to satisfy his younger hoobae.
Kim Kyu-chul tells him that he wants to make a comeback after the trouble he caused for the sake of his children. Professor Park asks after the twins, then wonders what his senior could be working on. Kim Kyu-chul promises to tell him everything and invites him for a meal.
Part 1: Beta Project
Woo-jin tries to convince a distraught Professor Han that he knows nothing about his father’s life as a neuroscientist. He begs to have his brother returned to him and promises to disappear without causing any legal problems for Professor Han.
His professor just laughs, grabbing Woo-jin’s face like he wants to crush it. “Do I look sane to you?” he asks, adding that the moment he started his illegal experiments, he crossed a line that he had to keep crossing over and over again. “I killed people,” he tells Woo-jin, looking momentarily pained as he does so.
But the pained expression turns into one of desperation as Professor Han insists that Woo-jin must find his father’s research. “If you can’t find it, I’ll never stop. This tiresome experiment will continue on and more people will have to die,” Professor Han grits out. For extra motivation, he threatens Bum-gyun’s life too, should Woo-jin not find what he wants.
When Woo-jin emerges out of the deserted hospital, the dirty cop hands him his backpack and warns him against reporting what happened, since he’s not the only policeman involved in this. Woo-jin takes a call from Jung-yeon in front of the cop and says that he found nothing on Professor Han’s laptop. Dirty Cop smirks and tells him to quickly finish the assignment his professor gave him.
Woo-jin gets back to his apartment and rummages through the few items of his dad that he has with him. He comes across a business card from Kim Kyu-chul’s life as a researcher. He decides to try and log into his dad’s email account, but gets stuck at the security question when he opts to change the password.
Thinking back, he remembers how his father had taught him how to ride a bicycle, and in answer to the “most prized possession” security question, he types in “the twins.”
When it’s accepted, Woo-jin gets angry at the father who deceived them and brought them to their current state, though he almost fondly unfurls the business card he crumpled up after his short burst and wipes away his tears.
Chief Hong lets the facts of the case percolate in his mind as he sketches in his notebook. It’s then that he gets a visit from his superior, who wants him to take his hands off the serial suicide case. Furious, Chief Hong borrows a lollipop from Dirty Cop and stomps out of the station.
Woo-jin scrolls through pages of emails until he comes to one with a mysterious subject and an attachment. The file is compressed and needs a password to be unzipped. After trying every word and name he can think of, Woo-jin tries calling his student, Dong-soo.
Dong-soo is unreachable by phone, but Woo-jin tracks him down to a gaming den, where the kid is playing hooky from school. When Woo-jin asks if he’s a hacker, Dong-soo becomes concerned that his tutor has stalker-ish tendencies toward a girl he’s dating, but he agrees to help him in exchange for a favor.
Dong-soo sets up a program to run through all possible password combinations on Woo-jin’s laptop, then sits back as Woo-jin stews in his impatience. He tries to explain to Dong-soo how important it is for him to see what’s inside the file, and realizing his tutor’s urgency, Dong-soo decides to use a different method.
While Dong-soo works on his laptop, Woo-jin visits his grandmother’s hospice room. While she’s out on her walk, he goes through her things, but unfortunately, she comes back early and mistakes him for a thief.
Woo-jin desperately grabs his grandmother and asks her if his father left any research with her, but she’s too overwrought to listen. In her struggle to pull away, she scratches his face, leaving Woo-jin shaken and hurt.
Defeated, Woo-jin leaves the hospice, then gets a call from Dong-soo that he’s cracked the password. He sends the file over to Woo-jin’s phone, but when Woo-jin opens it, there are only a few images of Byul with the twins in front of their old house. Woo-jin is initially disappointed, but then he wonders about the significance of the house.
We find Bum-gyun is lying on the floor of his father’s office, already in the grips of delirium as he murmurs, “Woo-jin-ah.”
Professor Park thinks of his confrontation with Professor Han and reassures himself that he had no idea that illegal experiments were going on. Patting himself on the head for being different from Professor Han, he goes up to his office to find Chief Hong waiting.
As soon as Chief Hong brings the dissected blue worms out of his pocket, Professor Park’s good intentions fly out the window, and he disavows knowing anything about them.
Professor Park learns from Hong that someone related to the case is now missing and that worms had come out of two of the dead students. This knowledge drives Professor Park to seek out Lee Sunbae and grill him about Professor Han’s experiments.
Lee Sunbae spills the beans, admitting that Professor Han is attempting to gather a person’s memories and turn them into video files. Professor Park scoffs at the idea, since there is no way to store human memory, let alone convert those memories into footage.
Jung-yeon goes into Professor Han’s office and finds her camera sitting on the table. As she goes through its footage, Professor Han opens the door, and Jung-yeon quickly starts the recorder and places the camera so it faces Han.
Hurrying out from behind his cubicle, she says that she was worried about him, but Professor Han just bluntly asks her how much she knows. Jung-yeon plays dumb for a moment, before suddenly breaking character and spitting out Byul’s name. She asks if he’s really involved in Bum-gyun’s disappearance and the student deaths.
Growing agitated, Professor Han says, “This was all because of you.” He calls her “Byul” as he says that everything he’s done was in an attempt to get her to regain her memories, and that he means to eventually use the blue worms to retrieve Byul’s old memories.
Calling the deaths of the kids a “side effect,” Professor Han stresses that if Jung-yeon could get the memories back that Kim Kyu-chul locked away, all of humanity could live in a braver, grander world.
Jung-yeon listens in distress as Professor Han talks about Byul’s ability to turn her own memories into video files and choose which memories she wanted deleted. Even though the professor doesn’t know where Byul is from, he has confirmed that she shares the same DNA as other humans and therefore hopes to replicate her ability to eradicate emotional suffering from the world.
He talks about how Byul never got angry, even as tears run down Jung-yeon’s face. Professor Han grabs her, still calling her “Byul,” and tells her that she’s humanity’s savior. He desperately asks her to stay still while Woo-jin looks for his dad’s research. Upon seeing the resistance on her face, he ominously adds, “If you want Woo-jin and Bum-gyun to be safe, that is.” Jung-yeon backs away from him in horror.
Min-young speaks to someone on the phone who tells her that she has a foreign object in her brain. She tells him that she’s seen the CT scan and knows the risk, but she seems relatively unconcerned about it at the moment, since has to find someone right now.
Not being able to get in touch with Woo-jin, she visits the neuroscience building and quietly enters Professor Han’s office. Before she can look through his desk, Professor Park walks in, and Min-young ducks behind a desk to hide.
Professor Park finds the camera Jung-yeon had left recording on Professor Han’s desk and replays the argument. Meanwhile, Professor Han has locked Jung-yeon up in what looks like a hospital room. She yells for Professor Han, still calling him “Dad,” then curls up in a ball when no one opens the door.
As Professor Park absorbs what he just saw in the video, Min-young comes out of hiding, snatches the camera, and makes a run for it. Professor Park grabs her and almost manages to take the camera back when Min-young whips out her trusty taser. She accuses him of being in on the student deaths and asks him about Bum-gyun.
Connecting the dots, he realizes that Bum-gyun might be in Kim Kyu-chul’s old house and promises to help her. Min-young immediately calls up Chief Hong and tells him about what she found out. As he hangs up, Dirty Cop asks Chief Hong what the call was about, and is stunned upon hearing that Bum-gyun has been located.
Dirty Cop immediately calls Professor Han, who gets a lackey to send someone over to the house.
Woo-jin wanders along the streets at night wondering if their old house is somehow connected to all of this. Suddenly, he gets a call from Professor Park, who without prelude tells Woo-jin that his brother is in their old house. Woo-jin looks up, and we see that he’s standing right in front of his childhood home. He runs towards it and notices an ambulance standing in front of it.
It’s the same one that carried his brother away from Eunsung Hospital. Woo-jin rushes to the front door to find two black-clad men waiting for him. He tackles them, trying to reach the door, but the two gang up on him and beat him up.
Woo-jin tries to fight back and is resilient about reaching his brother, but they beat him to the ground and kick him until he’s coughing blood. As the two men leave him lying on the front yard, he crawls up to a shovel, forces himself to stand up, and bashes one of the men on the head.
Min-young, Professor Park, and Chief Hong are on the road driving to the house, even as Woo-jin takes down both men and coughs out blood on the grass. Painfully and slowly, he enters the basement where Bum-gyun had been confined, but finds it empty.
Woo-jin’s eyes fall on the locked door of his father’s office in recollection, and he uses his fingerprint to get inside. He finds things askew and sees the bottom half of a figure lying on the ground. Very slowly, he approaches his father’s office until he confirms with his own eyes that it’s Bum-gyun lying on the ground.
Something breaks inside him then, and he rushes to cradle his brother’s limp form in his arms as he cries and calls his name, desperate for him to wake up. Woo-jin apologizes over and over again, crying madly, until Bum-gyun awakens enough to recognize his voice.
Woo-jin cries and thanks his brother for being alive, while Bum-gyun mumbles an apology of his own. Above the reunited brothers, the camera hidden in the star on the ceiling analyzes Woo-jin and decides that this individual has authorization. The computer on Kim Kyu-chul’s desk lights up, and the monitor comes alive with a string of data.
Part 2: Brave New World
Joon-hyuk sits in the Investigation Unit room playing with his Rubik’s cube. After some deliberation, he sets down the cube and walks away, and we see that the puzzle has been solved.
He speaks to Jung-yeon through a VR program and tells her that he’ll meet the CEO of Human B and stop him, regardless of whether that mysterious individual is Woo-jin or not. Jung-yeon says that she unblocked memories even when she believed Woo-jin could be the CEO, so she’s completely on board with stopping Human B no matter who it is.
Joon-hyuk visits the Human B building and asks Deputy Chief Lee to pass on a message to their CEO: If the man knows that he’s Bum-gyun, then it’s time the CEO met him and Bluebird in person.
Back in Ho-soo’s pad, he shows his new ally the signature cut behind his ear and says that he was a victim just like Ho-soo twenty years ago. “I was the first victim to lose my memories,” he adds, thinking that it’s not such a stretch that Human B would do something to his brother too.
Ho-soo is surprised to learn that Human B is responsible for Joon-hyuk’s brother’s disappearance. Joon-hyuk scoffs at the idea of Smart Earth being a crime-free city, and says that he’ll find out where Woo-jin is once he meets the CEO.
Deputy Chief Lee informs the shadowy figure behind Human B that Joon-hyuk wants to meet him in person. In response, the chairman looks at the picture of the two brothers on the old phone.
As they make their way to their office, Ho-soo advises Joon-hyuk to stop eating flour-based products for his health, and Joon-hyuk argues that eating donuts is a Hollywood-sanctioned reward for hardworking cops like himself. Affectionately calling him “Erro” again, Joon-hyuk also observes that Ho-soo’s nagging has gotten worse since his chip was disconnected before shoving his last bit of donut in Ho-soo’s mouth, ha.
When they enter the Investigation Unit room, they find Bum-gyun’s old phone sitting beside Joon-hyuk’s solved Rubik’s cube. Joon-hyuk approaches it cautiously, then picks it up and turns on the display. As soon as the image of the twins appears, he recognizes the phone as his old phone and tells Ho-soo that Woo-jin was the last person to have it.
He checks the messages, and there’s only one with a time, date, and location in it. Ho-soo warns him that it could be a trap. It’s the same warning he gets when he tells Chief Hong about the meeting and shows him the picture of Woo-jin with the painting, which he reveals was taken in the CEO of Human B’s office. He asks his old mentor to wait at the terminal with officers at the ready, and to protect Jung-yeon if something goes wrong.
On his way back, he gets a call from Minister Park, who asks him to meet in the mayor’s office. There, Minster Park hands over a USB with a list of visitors to the long ago Investment Briefing, where Woo-jin was last sighted. He tells Joon-hyuk that if the CEO of Human B had been present in that meeting, he would be in the visitors’ memory. Joon-hyuk asks if the minister wants him to hack into the memories of these people, but Minister Park simply says that it’s up to him.
Woo-jin gives the USB to Ho-soo with instructions to meet Chief Hong should anything go wrong before leaving to meet the CEO. In his mind, he hopes that his brother doesn’t turn out to be the man behind Human B.
Back in the mayor’s office, Mayor Yoon asks Minister Park if the investor’s briefing he mentioned was the one that was held in 2022. Mayor Yoon reveals that he was a reporter back then, and that he’d incidentally heard about the top secret meeting while tailing the head of a foreign company. Minister Park says that he only found out about it after entering office and takes his leave. Mayor Yoon watches him go with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Chief Hong studies the picture of Woo-jin in the CEO’s office and tells Detective Ha that something is fishy. He recognizes the painting beside Woo-jin but can’t remember where he’s seen it before.
Meanwhile, Mayor Yoon goes through files of notes from his days as a reporter, until he comes across the date of the secret investment briefing. Among the list of attendees, he finds Minster Park’s name. Mayor Yoon now recalls that though he’d not been allowed to go inside the hotel, he’d taken pictures of every person who arrived for the meet, and he’d photographed Minister Park going into the building. He immediately calls security and has Minister Park brought back to his office.
He confronts the minister about hiding the truth of his presence from Joon-hyuk. Though Minister Park denies any involvement with the briefing, he doesn’t seem terribly surprised when Mayor Yoon pulls up the pictures he’d taken of him on the day of the briefing. Mayor Yoon asks him what his connection is to Human B, and Minister Park smiles strangely as he wonders how to explain it to him.
As Joon-hyuk heads over to meet the CEO, Chief Hong jumps up from his seat with recognition written all over his face. At the same time, Ho-soo hands the USB to Jung-yeon.
Minister Park rounds on the mayor and asks him why he thinks Joon-hyuk was kidnapped and almost forcibly chipped. Mayor Yoon guesses that it was to keep him quiet, but the minister says that it was to block his memories. He smiles evilly at Yoon and points out that although you can’t erase the memories of someone without a chip, it’s utterly easy to do it to anyone who already has a chip in him.
“Mayor Yoon, do you know which emotion is the most dangerous?” Minister Park asks with a smile. “Curiosity.” As Mayor Yoon’s eyes widen in recognition of the threat, Park introduces himself as the CEO of Human B. The mayor yells that this is illegal, but Park simply repeats that he’s the CEO — the very same person who created the chip in Mayor Yoon’s head.
In flashback, we see that it was Minister Park’s plan all along to get closer to Joon-hyuk by playing the rescuer to his damsel. He had been in collusion with Deputy Chief Lee the entire time.
Then, Minister Park brings out his phone and gives the order to “erase it.” On the other end, Deputy Chief Lee types in a command into the system and blocks all of the mayor’s memories.
Back in the office, Mayor Yoon suddenly collapses. After taking a moment to look over the mayor’s prone form, he calls in security and directs them to get help while pretending to be distraught.
Chief Hong unearths an old notebook from 2017 while Joon-hyuk reaches the meeting site. Jung-yeon goes through the content of the USB and tells Ho-soo that it’s not a list of names but of chip addresses, and that they can access their memory footage if she tracks each one.
Minister Park calls a council meeting of Smart Citizens and brings Deputy Chief Lee in to explain what happened to Mayor Yoon. Lee lies that Bluebird hacked into the mayor’s memory and blocked all of it so that he will never function normally again. Understandably, everyone present becomes instantly aware of how vulnerable they are, and Minister Park takes advantage of this and declares that Smart Earth is under attack.
Citing a Smart Earth law, Minister Park takes over the governance of the city in his capacity as the Minister of Science and Economy. As he begins a manhunt for Bluebird, the only one to look concerned is Mayor Yoon’s personal assistant.
On Ordinary Earth, Chief Hong flips open his old notebook to a page of scribbles. It’s a sketch he made of the painting that now hangs in the CEO’s office. Back in 2017, he’d first seen it above Professor Park’s desk and sketched it while waiting for him. Putting the pieces together, Chief Hong realizes that Minister Park must be the CEO of Human B.
As Jung-yeon traces the address in the USB, she realizes that something is wrong. The USB was just a way for the Human B supercomputer to hack into her system and detect her location. Even as her base is being located, Jung-yeon immediately disconnects everything and runs out with Ho-soo.
Anticipating her escape, Minister Park directs Deputy Chief Lee to block all communication networks in that area. Now Ho-soo and Jung-yeon are cut off from Joon-hyuk, with no way to warn him of the trap.
Deputy Chief Lee reports to Minister Park that they lost Bluebird, but Minister Park has one more card up his sleeve. He reaches the place where Joon-hyuk is waiting, huffing and out of breath, and tells him that Bluebird has been compromised. Joon-hyuk says that there is a place he is supposed meet Jung-yeon in this kind of a situation, and they head over together.
Their car stops in the middle of a field, and Park follows Joon-hyuk out with a minion in tow. That’s when Joon-hyuk casually turns around and asks what’s really going on. Pulling out his phone, he shows Minister Park the picture of Woo-jin and the painting. We see that before the communication blackout, Chief Hong was able to call Joon-hyuk and tell him where he’d seen that painting before.
Now, Joon-hyuk asks why Minister Park’s painting would be hanging in Human B’s CEO’s office. Minister Park tries to pretend that it’s a copy, but as soon as Joon-hyuk takes a step closer, Minister Park’s minion pulls out a gun. Joon-hyuk easily disarms the man and swipes the gun, pointing and shooting past the minister’s ear in the same motion.
As Minister Park’s ears ring, Joon-hyuk studies the man’s neck and notes that no chip lights up to combat the rush of adrenaline normal in this situation. He asks Minister Park if he’s the CEO of Human B.
Instead of answering, Minister Park asks where Jung-yeon is. Joon-hyuk asks him again, and this time, Minister Park admits that he’s the man Joon-hyuk had wanted to meet so badly. “How do you feel?” the minister asks with a smirk.
We see that day in Professor Han’s office one more time, when Minister Park first learned about Byul’s ability to store and erase memories. This time, we see how his hands trembled and his eyes lit up at the possibilities such an ability could open up.
In the present, Joon-hyuk holds a gun to CEO Park’s head and yells, “Where’s Woo-jin? Where’s my little brother?”
I’m so grateful for that ending, because I was genuinely starting to believe that Joon-hyuk has some kind of damsel disorder, where he keeps blindly walking into traps and waiting to be rescued. I was also tired of our heroes in Brave New World passively responding to the actions of their nemeses. It’s time that they changed the game and brought some trouble to Human B’s doors.
I loved that Minister Park’s evil plan to catch Jung-yeon was brought down by the interference of a lowly detective who was always mocked for his habit of constantly sketching in his notebook. It was a nicely done bit of foreshadowing that was subtle enough for us to ignore, yet more satisfying for the surprise.
I find that I’m happy that Woo-jin isn’t the CEO of Human B, since Minister Park’s character works nicely as the head of an evil corporation. Given how slimy his character was in the first few episodes, I was experiencing whiplash at how friendly and honest he had suddenly become. Good to know that it was all an act.
While Woo-jin, his dad, and Professor Han were all men who believed that erasing memories could be an effective way of taking away human suffering, Minister Park has no such moral reasons for his involvement in the project. Given that he remained chipless all these years, he clearly thought of the Stable Care System as the ultimate power tool to manipulate and control people. The ease with which he rendered Mayor Yoon witless indicates years of abusing the system that he helped set up.
Woo-jin of 2017 clearly believed that Professor Park was on his side. So, did he disappear after he learned otherwise? What is the data that his father’s system gave him access to, and why was he authorized while Bum-gyun wasn’t? Does the Jung-yeon of 2037 have Byul’s memories?
Byul’s humanity is a subtle recurring theme in this story, and I can’t wait to dig deeper into it. Even as Professor Han was yelling at Jung-yeon about Byul’s inability to feel anger, his “daughter” was responding to his revelations with fear and sadness. At this point, despite everything she has learned about herself, Jung-yeon is still a twenty-one-year-old girl who’s facing heartbreaking truths about the only family she has ever known.
With so many mysteries still unsolved and Human B looming more darkly over all our heroes, Circle continues to play with our expectations and answer every question with more questions. Now that Bum-gyun has been found in the present, I’m hoping that the Woo-jin of the future makes an appearance soon. And while we wait, I’ll start writing a petition for a Sherlock Hong spin off, ’cause that’s a show we all need in our lives.