Life on Mars: Episode 13

What happens when you are torn between loyalty to the job and loyalty to your team? Tae-joo must tackle the toughest decision he’s ever had to make—trusting someone completely in the face of mourning evidence otherwise. But Kang Dong-chul inspires that trust when he asks so much of others, and gives so much of himself. Unfortunately, the “team” is no longer a team in anything but feeling, as they are broken up and cast across different departments. They will have to move about in secret to help their beloved captain in the manhunt that ensues.

 
EPISODE 13 RECAP

Tae-joo plummets into the water, and is knocked half-unconscious. From 2018, Tae-joo can hear his doctor say his vitals are crashing as he is going into shock. Ex-fiancee Seo-hyun desperately asks for Tae-joo to wake up…

…And he does, but he’s still in 1988. The team gathers ’round, worry etched into their faces, but Tae-joo only has eyes for Hyun-seok. Hyun-seok lies off to the side—he is dripping wet, and no longer alive. Min-seok’s wails puncture the air as he runs upon the scene of his dead brother.

Feeling impotent, Tae-joo asks his TV why it has gone quiet now. His demands get louder, but the TV remains static.

Tae-joo turns to Mom next, but even here there is no comfort because she has closed the salon for business and the house is empty. Tae-joo stares down at a picture of his family with his father and asks, “Everyone left, but why am I still here?”

Tae-joo cannot dispel the thought of Hyun-seok from his mind, his warning that the mysterious man from Seoul will call him ringing loud. Tae-joo’s phone call goes unanswered when he tries to reach the caller though.

Overwhelmed, Tae-joo stands up and his eyes begin to blur, his head hurting. Only Na-young’s touch brings Tae-joo back with a thud, and he grips her hand tightly. Worried, Na-young gently scolds Tae-joo for working too hard, but Tae-joo abruptly answers that he still has work to do on the case even if he doesn’t quite know what he’s looking for.

In contrast to Tae-joo’s glum mood, Dong-chul, Yong-ki, and Nam-shik are all in high spirits as they prance into the office. Yong-ki is sure that his probation will be ended due to his contributions to this case, and Nam-shik happily asks whether they should go for a team dinner tonight at karaoke. Dong-chul’s antics even manage to draw a smile from Tae-joo.

Which is chased away as soon as the preening Kyung-se steps into the station, ready to accept the cheering police and their congratulations. His grapes very sour indeed, Dong-chul sneers that they should just leave Kyung-se alone… womp womp, Yong-ki and Nam-shik fall over themselves to congratulate Kyung-se.

Dong-chul is happy enough though, as he wheedles payment for a staff dinner from Kyung-se in exchange for all the hard work they did on the case. But Dong-chul’s grin falls from his face when Kyung-se smirks that this may be their last team dinner after all.

An official order has been handed down to Kyung-se to disband the team, and place them in different sub-divisions. Kyung-se snidely promises to transfer Na-young to a better division. As if he hasn’t said enough, Kyung-se cheerily tells Dong-chul he should be thankful for the opportunity to get rid of the two troublemakers that put him in this place.

Incensed, Dong-chul punches Kyung-se in the face, and yells “These guys aren’t objects or trash you can get rid of.” The team has to pull him away as Dong-chul goes in for another attack.

The only thing left to do is to go get drunk at the bar, where the mood is a bitter one instead of jubilant. Dong-chul has gotten quite outrageously drunk, and although he insists he’s fine to Tae-joo, Tae-joo swipes his car keys to prevent him from driving.

Dong-chul ineffectually punches in Tae-joo’s general direction, and stumbles over into a booth. He decides there is as good a place as any for a snooze, so Tae-joo has to haul him out to his car. Dong-chul’s directions are suspiciously vague and for good reason—he has directed Tae-joo to Chief Kyung-se’s house, not his own. Ha, Dong-chul wanders off screaming at Kyung-se to come out and fight him.

Meanwhile, Tae-joo is distracted by a ringing phone. He warily answers, and it’s the mysterious caller from Seoul. Unconcerned by Tae-joo’s demands to know who he is, the caller simply says, “We’ll be meeting soon, Tae-joo. Have patience.”

The next morning, Tae-joo gets another phone call, but this one is from Dong-chul. It’s no more pleasant though, as Dong-chul rasps down the phone that he needs Tae-joo’s help. He’s at Kyung-se’s place, and Dong-chul says, “I think I might have caused trouble.”

It looks like Dong-chul has caused A LOT of trouble. Tae-joo finds him covered in blood… and Kyung-se’s body lying lifeless in the bath.

Dong-chul can’t remember anything from most of last night, and certainly not why he’s here at Kyung-se’s place. The first he learned of it was this morning when he awoke and stumbled in on Kyung-se’s body (notably, his shirt was clean until he came upon the scene). He can’t even remember why he’s here at Kyung-se’s place, since everything after the bar is a blank.

Tae-joo yells that he’s here because he wanted to kill Kyung-se. Although Dong-chul is adamant that he didn’t kill Kyung-se, he seems less sure of himself after Tae-joo points out that he doesn’t remember anything. Dong-chul’s head falls to his hands, despairing.

Police sirens blare outside, even though neither Dong-chul nor Tae-joo called them. Tae-joo intently asks Dong-chul why he called him this morning. As they raise their hands for the incoming officers, Dong-chul answers tautly, “Because I need your help.”

The station is silent and shocked as Tae-joo leads Dong-chul through the crowd. Nam-shik stops him with tears in his eyes and Dong-chul stoically reassures him that he’s okay.

Outside, the disbanded team presses Tae-joo for details, worried that their beloved captain might really have done something terrible. Yong-ki can’t believe it, Nam-shik doesn’t want to believe it, and Na-young insists that Dong-chul isn’t the type to do something like this.

Tae-joo frankly tells them that he doesn’t know if Dong-chul committed the crime, but he assures them he will lead the investigation to make sure Dong-chul gets a fair chance… Except a sharply suited man interrupts to correct Tae-joo that no one with a personal connection to Dong-chul will be working the case.

The man smoothly introduces himself as Chief Ahn Min-shik, the man in charge of the investigation—and adds that he used to work in Seoul central. Just like Tae-joo did. With a creeping realization, Tae-joo connects the man in front of him with the mysterious caller from Seoul.

Perturbed, Tae-joo follows Chief Ahn and demands to know how he knows him. Chief Ahn tells Tae-joo that he should know better than anyone, but there will be time to discuss those matters later. For now, Chief Ahn unceremoniously orders Dong-chul’s things removed from his office, and makes himself at home.

Chief Ahn asks Tae-joo why he was the first person on the scene, and rubs his chin thoughtfully that Dong-chul called Tae-joo. Still smiling, Chief Ahn asks what Dong-chul was like to work with, not as a cop, but as a colleague—does Tae-joo think that Dong-chul could have committed murder? At Tae-joo’s staunch no, Chief Ahn comments that they will have to wait and see whether Tae-joo’s judgment is correct.

In their first interrogation, Chief Ahn lays out the damning evidence against Dong-chul—the murder weapon (Kyung-se’s police award) that has Dong-chul’s fingerprints all over it, the blood on his shirt, the ruckus he caused at 3:30 a.m. when Kyung-se’s death is estimated at 4 a.m. And above all, Dong-chul’s convenient memory loss.

It looks like Chief Ahn has scored a hit, as Dong-chul and Tae-joo share a look.

The team is still waiting outside, worried, and Tae-joo attempts to calm them down. But Chief Ahn’s arrival heightens the tension, as Dong-chul is led away to a different detainment center, due to the number of watching eyes on this case. Yong-ki blusters that Dong-chul’s handcuffs should be removed, but Chief Ahn effectively shuts him up as he cautions that they should focus on their transfer.

Still acting as their captain, Dong-chul cheerily assures Yong-ki and Nam-shik that he’s fine, and that they look good in their new uniforms. Led away, Dong-chul calls back, “I didn’t kill Kyung-se. Do everything you can.”

Aw no, Na-young’s transfer to a “better division” is actually just an extra humiliation—she’s dressed as a tiger and helps children cross the road. Tae-joo lightly comments that this doesn’t seem like a promotion, although Na-young takes it in stride as she answers that the kids are cute.

Tae-joo admits to being confused about this case, since everything points to Dong-chul being the killer. Na-young astutely points out, “Dong-chul trusts you the most. Shouldn’t you believe him? Captain is certain that you will believe him.”

But news from the radio shows that maybe Dong-chul doesn’t want to wait for Tae-joo’s belief—he has escaped from police custody while in the middle of his transfer. Tae-joo and Na-young rush to the scene, where it transpires that Dong-chul had conned his way out of his cuffs (to pee) and then attacked the officers before taking off in their car.

Dong-chul’s stolen car was spotted heading in the opposite direction of his family’s home (he didn’t want them to know of his troubles) so Tae-joo gathers Na-young, Yong-ki, and Nam-shik to carry out surveillance on the area he was last seen in before Chief Ahn can find him.

Their search is futile though, and they end up drinking away their frustration at the bar. Nam-shik hesitantly asks why Dong-chul would even escape if he really were innocent. Yong-ki insists that Dong-chul did nothing wrong, though from the looks on all of their faces, they might be starting to doubt that.

Tae-joo wearily heads home… and comes face to face with a waiting Dong-chul, who had nowhere else to go. Upright as ever, Tae-joo’s first instinct is to call the station and turn Dong-chul in. An offended Dong-chul stops him. He asks if Tae-joo doesn’t trust him, and Tae-joo reiterates that he can’t trust someone who can’t even remember.

Frustrated, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that he should just phone the police on him then, but Tae-joo tensely asks why he should trust Dong-chul. His gaze intent on Tae-joo, Dong-chul answers, “Because I trust you. This is why you should trust me too.”

Rocked by the admission, Tae-joo doesn’t call the police on Dong-chul. The two men sit side by side, and Dong-chul says that his fate lies in Tae-joo’s hands now. Tae-joo (rightly) gripes, “How can you escape without even planning ahead?”

Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul really can’t remember anything useful, though apparently he can—he remembers that there was someone else at Kyung-se’s place that night, a figure dressed all in black. At Tae-joo’s disgust over the withheld information, Dong-chul shamefacedly mutters, “I started to recall some things after I became sober.”

With revived purpose now, Dong-chul tells Tae-joo that he needs to get a look at Kyung-se’s body—Dr. Park wasn’t allowed on the case, so they’ll need to break into the mortuary. Dong-chul takes a long swig for some liquid courage, and meaningfully looks at Tae-joo. Haha.

Craaash. They break a window into the mortuary and sneak in. Tae-joo notes that Kyung-se has no defensive wounds, which indicates that the attack happened very quickly, and then notices the second-degree burn on Kyung-se’s foot.

The hot water in Kyung-se’s bath kept running, causing the burn—which must have kept his body warm for longer than normal, and means that the time of death predicted is wrong. Kyung-se was already dead by the time Dong-chul arrived. The man Dong-chul saw in the apartment must have been his killer.

Dong-chul doesn’t want Yong-ki and Nam-shik to get in any more trouble than they already are, but Tae-joo points out that they are going to need some help to investigate this. Dong-chul says that he knows someone.

The two sneak through the alleys of Insung, to knock on a shady looking door. Dong-chul comes with an offering of food, and smiles at the slovenly man who answers the door. “How have you been, honey?” he says. The man greets Dong-chul as “Wifey.” Ha!

Inside, Dong-chul play-fights with his friend… and it’s Tae-joo who accidentally gets punched in the face. Oh, that’s great.

Dong-chul introduces Tae-joo to Detective Shin Chul-hong, and the two good-naturedly rib each other about who is the better boxer. Tae-joo notices the pictures of a young woman laid proudly out in Detective Shin’s house—and also the tremor in Detective Shin’s hand as he pours out his alcohol.

Detective Shin must be very good friends with Dong-chul, as he promises to look into the culprit leaving Kyung-se’s house and warns Tae-joo to look after Dong-chul, “Be sure to hold his hand tight when you’re taking him around. He gets himself in trouble a lot.” Tae-joo forthrightly agrees, lol.

Detective Shin takes a call, and has to head out to investigate a sighting of Dong-chul at Insung station. Dong-chul fusses over his impractical shoes, and tells him to take care of his health, but Detective Shin waves his concern away. He tells Dong-chul that soon he’ll retire and take over the gym again, and offers Dong-chul a place to train.

Once Detective Shin is gone, Dong-chul explains that Detective Shin used to be his boxing coach, and it was under his tutelage that Dong-chul had reached the 1966 Olympics. When Dong-chul had to stop boxing after an injury, it was Detective Shin that found him and beat some sense into him.

At that time, Detective Shin had changed careers and become a policeman. Dong-chul admits that it’s because of Detective Shin that he had had the courage to become a detective as well, after he saw Shin putting away all the criminals. He credits Detective Shin with saving him from just being a loser the rest of his life.

The two slip away back to Tae-joo’s place, where Dong-chul gets a restful night’s sleep and Tae-joo can’t get any at all because of Dong-chul’s loud snoring. It does mean that Tae-joo is awake to hear his TV begin to talk again, though the picture isn’t visible and the voices drop in and out. One thing is clear though—the surgery they are discussing will be difficult for Tae-joo to recover from.

Dong-chul once again awakes to find Tae-joo behaving rather oddly with his TV, and jokes, “You should just date your TV. Or marry it.” Aaaaand then Dong-chul has the audacity to complain that Tae-joo’s restless sleeping kept him awake all night. He staunchly refuses to believe he was snoring: “I make really gentle breathing noises!”

Refusing to be a fugitive alongside Dong-chul, Tae-joo prepares to go out to work, and looks less than impressed when Dong-chul grabs his ankle and whines, “I’ll be bored, so hurry back. My heart starts racing and I get weird thoughts when I’m alone.” Dong-chul puts his order in for a rotisserie chicken and despite his protests otherwise, promptly falls asleep when Tae-joo leaves.

The station doesn’t feel the same anymore to Tae-joo, as he stares at all the empty desks his team used to occupy. Even this moment is ruined by Chief Ahn, who orders Tae-joo to immediately tell him if Dong-chul shows up or contacts him.

Nam-shik sneakily ushers Tae-joo into a closet room, where Yong-ki is waiting. Aww, these two refused to give up on Dong-chul, and have still been investigating. They got a tip yesterday that a burglar named Oh Yong-tae had pawned an item that was probably stolen—and they discovered it was an award inscribed to Kyung-se (in a spot Oh Yong-tae likely wouldn’t have noticed).

Oh Yong-tae delivers gas cans for a living, and scouts out homes he can easily burgle while doing so—and guess who Yong-tae recently delivered to.

The trio heads over to Yong-tae’s house—but as they do, they find the door broken and the sound of rustling inside. Tae-joo warily heads in as Nam-shik and Yong-ki take watch. Inside, Tae-joo can see someone crouched down, going through drawers.

It can’t be Yong-tae though, since he arrives back home to find Yong-ki and Nam-shik outside and does a runner. Tae-joo moves to hit the man inside the house—and it’s Detective Shin. The four cops chase after Yong-tae as he makes a break for it. Detective Shin recklessly throws himself at Yong-tae, stopping him and hurting his arm in the process.

Through his own sleuthing skills, Detective Shin found out that Yong-tae was a likely culprit. His face hardening, he tells Tae-joo to let him handle this and roughly grabs Yong-tae by his shirt. Detective Shin threatens the truth out of Yong-tae—that he was there the night Kyung-se was killed, but he didn’t kill him.

Yong-tae arrived at Kyung-se’s after three, when he was already dead, but he had seen someone there. Detective Shin doesn’t take kindly to the fact that Yong-tae didn’t actually see who it was, but his shaking hands stop the impending beating far more effectively than Tae-joo’s request for him to stop.

Ashamed at his weakness, Detective Shin hurries around a corner to take his medicine, his breath short. Tae-joo follows, and glimpses the prescription—although Detective Shin tries to cover that he must have drunk too much last night, Tae-joo doesn’t let him get away with it. Detective Shin confesses that he has stomach cancer and he only has a year left to live.

But when Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul knows, Detective Shin fiercely tells Tae-joo not to tell him because, “I don’t want him to see me like this.”

Yong-ki and Nam-shik are shocked to learn that Dong-chul is hiding out at Tae-joo’s apartment, but are happy to bring Yong-tae over. Dong-chul excitedly declares that Yong-tae is the man he saw at Kyung-se’s place that night.

Tae-joo’s face softens as he delivers the next piece of news—as Detective Shin was walking away from Yong-tae, Yong-tae had recognized his military boots. Detective Shin was the man at Kyung-se’s apartment, and he had come to ensure Yong-tae hadn’t seen his face.

Livid and in shock, Dong-chul denies that it was Detective Shin. He doesn’t listen when Tae-joo points out that of all the people Detective Shin could have investigated, it was Yong-tae he picked out. Instead, Dong-chul bull-rushes outside to try and beat an alternative truth from Yong-tae.

But Yong-tae sticks to his guns. Reckless now, Dong-chul attempts to leave to ask Detective Shin if he was there that night, but Tae-joo tells he can’t do that when Detective Shin is a prime suspect. Dong-chul’s face twists and he lowers his voice, “Say that again and I’ll smash your face.”

So off the two go to confront Detective Shin. He’s not at home, but the crack of a gunshot draws their attention outside. The two run furiously to the source, where Detective Shin sits motionless in his car. Dong-chul draws cautiously near, saying, “Sunbae?”

As Dong-chul opens the door, Detective Shin’s body falls into his arms, a gunshot wound in his temple. Deep sobs rack Dong-chul’s body as he cradles his mentor to him, and he howls, “Why did you die first?”

Back at Tae-joo’s apartment, Dong-chul scrubs his arms clean of Detective Shin’s blood, and then leaves to be beside Detective Shin’s body at the morgue. Although Tae-joo tries to tell him it’s too dangerous, Dong-chul is firm as he says, “Chul-hong will be there alone. I will be there with him at least.”

As they all depart, Tae-joo’s doctor on the TV calls out happily to him, “You will be able to come back home soon.” The doctor explains that the fragment of bone that has been keeping Tae-joo unconscious will be removed soon—by Dr. Ahn Min-shik.

The phone rings. Of course, it’s Chief Ahn, and he has something to discuss with Tae-joo. Eyes narrowed, Tae-joo answers, “I have something I want to ask you as well.”

 
COMMENTS

Well guys, it’s time to talk about Dong-chul. This episode was almost entirely dedicated to our resident reprobate leader, and it was illuminating, engaging, and heartbreaking by turns. We get hints of the man that Dong-chul used to be, a young braggart with quick fists, as well as the man he could have been without Detective Shin’s guidance—a rebel destined for life as a “loser.” As this show has subtly showed before, we become who we are not just because of our character but because of our circumstances, and without any purpose to drive him forward Dong-chul may well have succumbed to the other side of the law. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the reason Dong-chul is so good at catching criminals is because he understands them—he does thrive on his instinct after all.

Which brings us to said mentor—this show has a very difficult relationship with father figures, doesn’t it? This is the second time that a father/mentor has been killed following shocking revelations about their character. We still don’t know Detective Shin’s motive for either killing Kyung-se or himself (though I suspect it has something to do with the young woman on his dresser) but at the end of the day, Dong-chul isn’t a murderer. I think he is going to find it difficult to reconcile the man who saved him with the man Detective Shin was, or had become. So much of Dong-chul’s character was molded by Detective Shin, both in his boxing and police career, yet Detective Shin was willing to watch Dong-chul take the fall for him in the end. That has got to hurt, and on top of that Dong-chul must come to terms with Detective Shin’s death. Phew.

Which makes me really glad that Tae-joo is there for him. Really, the blossoming bromance between Dong-chul and Tae-joo has become the beating heart of this series. It is genuinely lovely to see their friendship on TV, the coming together of two different breeds of exaggeratedly masculinized men. One is coarse and hot-tempered, the other clinical and repressed, but in the end they both understand each other. The parallels of loss between Tae-joo’s dad and Dong-chul’s mentor are striking, the unresolved tension left behind for both our heroes a mark of affinity. It was a particularly nice touch that after Detective Shin’s death we see Dong-chul’s distorted image in the broken mirror, reflecting his disordered state of mind. This, of course, parallels with Tae-joo in an earlier episode when he had just arrived in 1988 and felt like he was on shifting ground. Now it’s Dong-chul’s turn to question himself. I hope that Tae-joo’s understanding will help Dong-chul process his tumultuous emotions, and I’m just glad that Tae-joo has changed enough that he will actually be able to provide the support Dong-chul is going to need.

We are also really drilling down into the overall mystery here—I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a simple time travel mechanism at play, because there are just too many threads from Tae-joo’s life that permeate this world to be coincidence. But it’s slightly unbelievable to think that Tae-joo could simply have dreamed the world of 1988 up, which leaves us in that delicious, disorienting middle place where the viewers are as confused as Tae-joo is. What I can say is that every step Tae-joo has taken leads him further from his 2018 self (who would NEVER have harbored a fugitive) and we have seen him become a more comfortable version of himself here. Although his mother moving away initially seems sad, I believe this reflects Tae-joo’s inner belief that it’s time for him to stand on his own here. He has carved out a place for himself and he needs less connection with the person that he used to be.

Which is why Chief Ahn is such a terrifying prospect, as he threatens to tear down this world Tae-joo has found peace in. Kudos to the actor, Choi Jin-ho because this is very late in the game to introduce a credible new villain, but his gentle voice and smile had me appropriately chilled. He just seems so reasonable even as he methodically dismantles everything Tae-joo holds dear. Poor old Kyung-se ended up just being a middleman of mediocrity for our heroes to rail at, when the true threat was one they didn’t even see coming. It happened so quickly that even I had whiplash. And how disheartening was it to see our plucky Na-young getting pushed over by a bunch of bratty kids? She had finally gained respect with the team, and now the authorities are trying to hide her light under a bushel again. It’s so unfair.

If 1988 is a figment of Tae-joo’s imagination, or some form of Tae-joo’s 2018 issues playing out, what does that mean of the TV doctor? I had theorized that the TV was the real world impacting on Tae-joo’s consciousness in moments when he was susceptible to it, or when he most needed to hear it. But if this is his imagination, it’s worrying that the TV is starting to crackle, and he is finding it ever more difficult to hear the words of his loved ones. Is Tae-joo really in a coma and he’s retreating too far to hear the real world anymore?

I’m not convinced it is actually, because the TV doctor came across as quite sinister in this episode. Rather than merely being a harbinger of bad news, I have genuine misgivings about the sincerity of his motivations. The “fragment” of brain tissue for example, seems far too convenient to be the root of Tae-joo’s coma. Why has this only arisen now? Is the doctor trying to keep Tae-joo afraid? Not to mention the fact that Ahn Min-shik seems to be part of the doctor’s world. Is Tae-joo afraid to wake up in 2018 and has cast Dr. Min-shik as a villain—or is the TV doctor a part of the construct we are in and not a part of the real 2018 at all? On top of all that, Tae-joo’s headaches are getting more severe, which is really bad news. It was easy to dismiss these as a side effect of Tae-joo’s time travel/coma, but they’re getting worse and worse now—what if they mean that Tae-joo is close to death? And if Na-young’s touch is the only thing that brings him back, I hope Tae-joo keeps her close to him at all times.

Mystery of the episode: Why did Detective Shin kill Kyung-se? Did he at least leave a note to exonerate Dong-chul?

Tune of the episode: There wasn’t really any tune that stood out to me, so I will instead point you to the first released OST, a rocking tune by Patrick Joseph called “Agnes.”

 
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