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Witch’s Court: Episode 1

I love having new dramas that I can really sink my teeth into, and Witch’s Court is shaping up very nicely in its first episode. We are taking a hard look at sexual assault in this show, with an assertive heroine and idealistic hero hopefully our victims will be given the justice they deserve. The tone is intense and uplifting, and there’s more than a little bit of mystery and heartbreak, so buckle up for the ride ahead.

EPISODE 1 RECAP

We open in 1996, with a police van screeching to a halt before an empty building, men running through the corridors. Guns drawn, they nod tensely at each other before they bust through a closed door, and expertly somersault into the room. The leader barks out, “Freeze. We’re the police.”

The classroom of schoolchildren burst into applause. It turns out the police are here to demonstrate their jobs to the kids, and put on an impressive display as they high-kick balloons and use their heads to break concrete blocks. All the children are enthralled—except two, who seem almost bored. MA YI-DEUM whispers to her friend Yoo-mi that real police don’t need guns, and don’t have time to come to schools like this, so Se-na’s father (the police leader) must not be very busy.

Se-na accuses the two friends of being jealous because they don’t have fathers who can come to school. Affronted, Yi-deum yanks on Se-na’s hair, but looks abashed when she is scared by Se-na’s father into letting go.

At her mother’s noodle shop, Yi-deum discusses with Yoo-mi the ways to take revenge on those who insult them for being fatherless. Yi-deum proudly declares that there are only two ways that work—the first is to do well in school, and the second is to become pretty like Miss Korea.

Overhearing, Yi-deum’s mother scolds the two girls for thinking this way—they should be grateful for what they do have, rather than lament what they don’t. Even Yoo-mi has a grandmother that adores her, even if she doesn’t have parents.

Something on the television catches Mom’s attention, and she blanches at the news that the police commissioner, JO GAP-SOO, who has been battling charges of sexual assault and torture, has been found not guilty.

At the press conference, Jo Gap-soo (Jeon Gwang-ryul) is smug, while prosecutor MIN JI-SOOK (Kim Yeo-jin) vows that despite the outcome, she will ensure that Jo’s crimes come to light. Prosecutor Min states, “We will wait for the hidden victims to make a courageous decision and come forward.”

Mom is so horrified to learn that the victim from the case has committed suicide that she doesn’t even realize when she cuts herself with a knife.

At the hospital as a patient, the newly acquitted Jo Gap-soo is questioned by his lawyer about whether countersuing the other victims for defamation is really a good idea when this case was so hard to win in the first place. Jo tells the lawyer that before he was recruited by the police, he passed the bar exam. Voice raised dangerously, he yells that the most basic lesson in rape cases is that if the court returns a verdict of not guilty, the victim must be lying.

Shaken, the lawyer vows to lodge the suit, and leaves. Jo Gap-soo cryptically asks his henchman if “that woman” has been found yet. Ten years ago he had her sign a contract agreeing not to sue, but he glimpsed a cassette in her possession, and suspects she may have evidence of his crimes. His henchman supposes that if she hasn’t come forward yet there probably is no evidence, but Jo doesn’t rule out the possibility that she has another reason.

At home, Yi-deum applies antiseptic lotion and a bandage to her (less-than-brave) mother’s finger. Mom gently asks if Yi-deum is ashamed about not having a father, and jokes that she should just marry a handsome man to give Yi-deum a stepfather, though Yi-deum is skeptical about the idea.

Refusing to play with Mom any more, Yi-deum explains that she is studying hard to become a doctor—but not because she wants to help sick people but because she wants to become rich. Mom looks slightly concerned at how mercenary her daughter is, but melts when Yi-deum frankly admits that she wants to become rich to help Mom as well.

Late that night, while Yi-deum sleeps unaware, Mom huddles in the corner, her face wreathed in tears as she clutches a cassette tape marked “Jo Gap-soo.” She trembles as she recalls Prosecutor Min’s plea for informants to step forward.

The next morning, Mom attends the funeral of the suicide victim at the hospital, and she sorrowfully whispers, “I’m sorry I came so late.” Resolved, Mom rings Prosecutor Min, who snaps to attention when Mom states that she has a tape of Jo Gap-soo—where he admits to the crimes he committed 10 years ago.

Rushing to meet with Mom, Prosecutor Min runs into Jo Gap-soo on his way out of the hospital, and the two trade barbs through insincere smiles. However, Prosecutor Min gets the last word as she states that the trial isn’t over yet. Jo Gap-soo’s expression turns sour once she’s gone, and he wonders if she said that just to provoke him.

Meanwhile, Mom rides the elevator down to meet with Prosecutor Min, and her expression turns to alarm as Jo Gap-soo and henchman Baek Sang-ho get on with her. Fortunately they don’t recognize Mom and pay her little attention—but when Mom’s beeper rings with the message Prosecutor Min has just left her, Jo turns his attention to her. Mom looks terrified as Jo Gap-soo seems to recall where he’s seen her before.

At that very moment, Prosecutor Min passes in front of the elevator, but Mom’s dash out of the elevator is halted by Sang-ho and Jo Gap-soo. The doors slide closed.

At home, Yi-deum jolts awake calling out for her mother. As Yi-deum realizes that her mother never came home, she runs crying to Yoo-mi and Yoo-mi’s grandmother.

Two weeks later, and the police have officially started to investigate Mom’s disappearance. Little Yi-deum diligently plasters up posters of her mother everywhere and passes out fliers on the street, but all to no avail. A weary Yi-deum sobs over a poster of her missing mother.

The years pass by and Yi-deum grows to teenhood with no sign of her mother. The posters are still there, but have become ripped and ignored. Late one evening, Mom walks up to the neighborhood in the same clothes she disappeared in, staring down at a poster of herself, and sadly looks at the closed-down noodle shop she used to own.

Yi-deum steps outside and sees her mother standing there. Without saying a word, Mom turns away from Yi-deum and disappears again, this time into the fog. Yi-deum desperately runs after Mom but cannot catch her, and futilely cries into the night air.

With a gasp, adult Yi-deum (Jung Ryeo-won) jerks awake from the nightmare. She’s been napping in the restroom at work and, still disoriented, her expression turns to horror as she realizes she can hear two of her male colleagues urinating (she’s in the men’s room). Her disgust rapidly morphs into pride as she listens to the two men gossiping about her talent and potential promotion.

Self-congratulation pushed aside, Yi-deum rushes out to confront her colleague when he mentions that the case they are working on is running out of time since the accused will be leaving for his honeymoon to Macau in four hours. Invigorated, Yi-deum bolts off, cogs whirring at the new information.

The interrogation is not going well, and Chief Prosecutor Oh Soo-chul demands to know what Yi-deum is going to do to fix the problem. Unfazed, Yi-deum promises to take care of it, and cheekily winks at her boss before sauntering out of the room.

In the interrogation room, the assured perpetrator smirks at Yi-deum as he asks to be released for his flight. Yi-deum notes that he sure does love to travel, which made her curious enough to go looking through his flight history. She flips open the file in front of her to reveal pictures of the accused gambling at casinos in Macau and Gangwon, which wipes the smile off his face, since gambling is illegal in Korea.

Leaning across the table, Yi-deum smiles in triumph and declares that the man can admit to performing illegal medical procedures and give up the list of people he operated on, or he can face two charges including the gambling. This would definitely mean he would lose his medical license. Beaten, the accused man looks down, and Chief Prosecutor Oh clenches his fist at the victory behind the mirror.

Yi-deum swaggers back into the room, where Chief Prosecutor Oh compliments her skill and grasps her tightly by the arms. Discomfited at the close touch, Yi-deum deftly shakes Oh off, but he is oblivious to the withering glare she shoots at him.

The next morning, Yi-deum adds the finishing touches to the criminal report, before hurriedly doing the bare minimum to make herself presentable for the press conference. Yi-deum asks her office manager, Sohn Mi-young, how she looks, and two have an adorable fist bump when Mi-young replies that Yi-deum looks perfect.

The conference is packed, since it involves a number of high-profile men bribing doctors for unnecessary medical procedures to duck out of military service. Yi-deum, despite cracking the case, is offended to be relegated to back-up as her colleague (who actually made a misstep earlier by arresting the accused too soon) presents the case to the reporters.

In flashback, we see that Yi-deum was taken aside immediately prior to the conference, and informed that she would not be presenting the case. Yi-deum’s colleague explains that Chief Prosecutor Oh didn’t think it would be appropriate coming from a woman who had never attended military service.

A reporter states that she heard from a source that an informant was critical to the success of the case, and pointedly asks who this informant is. Unprepared, Prosecutor Woo flounders, and Yi-deum speaks out as she sees her opportunity to take the lead. Yi-deum’s gaze doesn’t waver as she meets Chief Prosecutor Oh’s eyes for his assent, and moves in for the kill with pre-prepared notes for the reporters. Chief Prosecutor Oh and colleague Woo glare daggers at Yi-deum, who boldly declares her name for all to take note of.

In flashback, we see that Yi-deum had collided with that reporter outside the conference, who saw the photos of the doctor and his fiancee gambling. Quick on the uptake, the reporter had asked whether these were photos of an informant, but Yi-deum slyly told her to ask that question at the conference instead.

Smug, Yi-deum casts a look back at the disgruntled Prosecutors Oh and Woo. When the assistant prosecutor general comes in to congratulate the team, and singles out Yi-deum for praise. Yi-deum is direct as she acknowledges that she is good at her job and promises to be even better in the future.

Later that night, Yi-deum and the team celebrate at a noraebang. Chief Prosecutor Oh’s look turns predatory as he pats the seat next to him and suggestively asks Yi-deum as the “only woman on the team” to pour him a drink. Uncomfortable, Yi-deum pretends to agree, but “trips” on her way to the seat and pushes the play button on the remote. She exclaims that she has to sing this song, and manages to evade sitting next to him.

As the party winds down, the reporter from earlier, Reporter Han, arrives and tries to pump Chief Prosecutor Oh for information on the list of military avoiders. Already drunk, Chief Prosecutor Oh lands a heavy palm on Reporter Han’s thigh, and ignores her attempts at redirection to sordidly propose that she needs to give him something first. Yi-deum, the only lawyer left awake, awkwardly catches Reporter Han’s eye and excuses herself to the bathroom.

Yi-deum curses to herself about Chief Prosecutor Oh’s behavior, but is unable to do anything but stare in shock as she sees Chief Prosecutor Oh forcing himself on Reporter Han outside the bathroom. Desperate to evade Oh’s wandering hands and lips, Reporter Han struggles to free herself, and for one scalding moment meets Yi-deum’s appalled gaze. Reporter Han stomps down hard on Chief Prosecutor Oh’s foot, and makes a quick escape away from the club.

Outside, Yi-deum is resigned as she watches Chief Prosecutor Oh being poured into a cab to go home, and her colleagues groan that he drank so much he even fell down the stairs. Yi-deum corrects them, “He didn’t fall. He was kicked.” Disconsolate, Yi-deum doesn’t explain further and simply walks away.

At her apartment building, Yi-deum watches in apprehension as a hooded man moves to stand next to her by the elevator. Nervous, Yi-deum asks what floor the man is getting off at, and he replies the eighth, the floor she has already pushed. Yi-deum snorts, and mutters that all the perverts must be out tonight.

Piqued, the hooded man says that Yi-deum is going too far, but Yi-deum challenges the man to go to his apartment if he insists he lives here. Yi-deum threatens to report him if he is lying about where he lives.

True to her word, Yi-deum follows behind, filming the man on her phone as he walks through the complex. The tension mounts as he stops at her door… only to key in the code for the apartment next to hers. The man deadpans, “Are you satisfied?”

Once alone, Yi-deum scurries inside her own apartment, dying from embarrassment. She pounds her pillow in frustration, and blames Chief Prosecutor Oh’s actions for her suspicious mind. The bleak reminder vexes Yi-deum even more, and she tries to reassure herself that it’s none of her business.

Two weeks later, though, this might prove to be untrue, as Yi-deum receives a subpoena in the sexual harassment suit Reporter Han has lodged against Chief Prosecutor Oh. Office manager Mi-young explains that this time, the accusation might stick, since the prosecutor in charge was once screwed over by Chief Prosecutor Oh, and happens to be very good at his job.

Yi-deum goes to meet the “psycho” Prosecutor YEO JIN-WOOK (Yoon Hyun-min) for her interview. Jin-wook recognizes Yi-deum from the elevator incident, but Yi-deum plays it cool and pretends not to remember.

It is clear that Yi-deum doesn’t want to testify against her boss on behalf of Reporter Han, but Jin-wook just gently says that witnesses often experience a similar trauma to victims after such an attack. Jin-wook explains that at the elevator that night, it was clear Jin-wook lived in the building, but she’d been so on edge after witnessing Chief Prosecutor Oh’s attack that she’d been on alert for predators.

Caught off-guard by Jin-wook’s understanding, Yi-deum nods along, and when he asks if she witnessed the assault, she answers “Yes” before she can stop herself. She immediately retracts, denying all memory of that night before Jin-wook can press her any more, and leaves.

In Chief Prosecutor Oh’s office, Yi-deum reassures her boss that she has already given her statement that she can’t remember anything about that night. This isn’t enough for Oh, who wants Yi-deum to beg or threaten Reporter Han—woman to woman—about dropping her complaint. Oh grasps Yi-deum’s chin as he promises that if she succeeds, the upcoming promotion is guaranteed to be hers.

Yi-deum shuts her eyes in defeat. Later that night, she reluctantly goes to Reporter Han’s house, where the reporter lives with her son. Yi-deum is forthright as she asks the scornful Reporter Han to withdraw, and explains that stronger cases than hers have ended in ruination for the women involved and no impact on the man or his career.

Infuriated, Reporter Han slaps Yi-deum, and demands to know how Yi-deum could betray another woman like this. Yi-deum drops to her knees and urges Reporter Han to relieve her frustrations by hitting Yi-deum instead, because Chief Prosecutor Oh will never apologize. She says the outcome of the case is obvious, and asks the reporter not to exert all this time and effort when she’ll clearly lose.

On her way home, a heavy-hearted Yi-deum spies Chief Prosecutor Oh and Prosecutor Woo out drinking with the assistant prosecutor general. Chief Prosecutor Oh jovially slaps Woo on the back as he promises the promotion (that he promised to Yi-deum) is a done deal.

The next day, the disciplinary meeting isn’t going well, as the blasé Chief Prosecutor Oh insincerely apologizes to Reporter Han and the tribunal judges ask her to drop the complaint. At that moment, Yi-deum bursts through the door and strides into the room. Promising the cocky Chief Prosecutor Oh that she’ll tell the truth about that night, Yi-deum excruciatingly details Chief Prosecutor Oh’s unsavory conduct, to the shock of everyone in the room.

For the final nail in the coffin, Yi-deum whips off Chief Prosecutor Oh’s shoe and sock with a flourish to reveal the bruise Reporter Han left as proof of his harassment. Yi-deum stares down at Chief Prosecutor Oh as she tells him that if he apologizes to Reporter Han right now, she’ll forget the empty promise he made to her about the promotion.

After the meeting, Yi-deum is composed in the face of Chief Prosecutor Oh’s ire, and states that even if she can’t get the promotion she was promised, she can at least stop his career ascent too. Chief Prosecutor Oh moves to hit Yi-deum, but she kicks his shin before he can, and follows it up with the most hilariously fake apology. Yi-deum warns Oh to leave her alone and stop touching her in inappropriate ways before she stalks away.

Outside, Jin-wook stops Yi-deum to thank her, and calls her a good person. Although Yi-deum is implacably flat in her responses, Jin-wook nevertheless wishes that next time they can meet under better circumstances. Unimpressed, Yi-deum ignores his outstretched hand and states, “Let’s not meet again.”

Back at the office, Mi-young is packing her things to follow where Yi-deum is next assigned, and pertly congratulates Yi-deum for finally becoming a “prosecutor who’s given up dreams of glory.” Yi-deum curiously asks what the Crimes Against Children Unit is, and Mi-young explains to Yi-deum’s horror that it’s the unit everyone tries to avoid, created by the honorable but persistently un-promoted Prosecutor Min Ji-sook.

Yi-deum is unenthusiastic as she trudges down to her new office, but there’s another unpleasant surprise waiting for her in the form of Prosecutor Jin-wook, who has also been assigned here. Aghast, Yi-deum can only stare at him.

COMMENTS

I like it. I don’t want to jinx it, since this is only the first episode, but I really like it.

I was unsure what to expect from this show given the heavy subject matter, but I’m glad to see that it was handled with sensitivity, and great insight. Sexual assault and sexism in the workplace are two topics not often broached in kdramas—or any dramas—so I will always appreciate a well done show that tries it. I am cautiously optimistic that Witch will continue to avoid too much overblown melodrama, which could undercut the message they are trying to send, even though I did think that Mom’s disappearance was a touch too contrived. It is the quiet moments that really left an impact on me here though-for example, I empathized far too much when Yi-deum’s fear ratcheted up waiting in the dark beside Jin-wook at the elevator. Yi-deum’s reaction might have been more confrontational than normal in this instance, but that feeling of fear she had is totally expected.

I think it was a very smart choice to focus on Yi-deum in this first outing, because our heroine faces the same challenges that our victims do in her professional life, though they are of a different nature. What I love about Yi-deum is that she is absolutely aware of the uphill battle she faces at work with her colleagues, but she is determined not to let it define her. She doesn’t ignore it—in fact, she rails against it at every turn—and has developed an interesting mix of direct and sly methods to deal with it. For example, I was simultaneously impressed at Yi-deum’s noraebang “trip” to get away from Chief Prosecutor Oh while also being disheartened that she had to even do it. Yi-deum is smart enough to realize that she needs to fight her own corner, without making it look like she is fighting, and unfortunately is forced to accept some truly unpalatable aspects of her job because of it.

It is clear that Yi-deum is wildly ambitious, and I am grateful that we have a female character who is unapologetic in pursuing her ambitions without the show demonizing her, but one who is also flawed. Yi-deum may have reached her breaking point with Chief Prosecutor Oh and his sexual harassment, but she did first beg Reporter Han to drop the case. Even her change of heart at the disciplinary came because she realized that Oh was never going to honor his promise to promote her, so although I was cheering when she finally wiped that smug look off Oh’s face, I couldn’t help but wish that she had done it to vindicate Reporter Han, not take vengeance on her duplicitous boss. It will be very interesting to see how she reacts to her new, low profile role in the “Crimes Against Girls Unit” with Jin-wook, who she has flatly refused to apologize to or even acknowledge.

Given Yi-deum’s pride, it will be very interesting to see how she reacts to her new, low profile role in the “Crimes Against Girls Unit” with Jin-wook, who she has flatly refused to apologize to or even acknowledge. We haven’t seen very much of Jin-wook yet, and all we really know about him is that he’s idealistic, good at his job, and that the dynamic between himself and Yi-deum is already antagonistic. I do get the feeling that it will be Yi-deum who is hard to win round though, both because her dignity has already been dinged by the elevator encounter, and because her internal measure of success (to get rich) will conflict with his more idealistic view of justice. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for our fiery heroine, and I can only hope that she applies her determination and cunning to the sexual assault cases she will be working on.

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