Thursday, April 02, 2020

[Impression] Nobody Knows

SBS has seriously a streak of great dramas lately. Last year Fiery Priest smashed whatever award show it could, and during this season they have this and Hyena. I had planned to write a traditional first impression short post but then life happened and four episodes stretched into eight so here it is, I am writing an impression only, after the first half of the series.

There is something deeply unnerving in this series and it's not an easy watch. It's exasperation, pure and unfiltered. It's not an easy watch and the characters here don't make it easy to like them, except for few of them. The opening of the series was the picture below - it all started 20 years earlier. It all starts in the past with the murder - and a lie.

At the same time the breathtaking vastness of this mountainous landscape made me somehow uneasy. The nature is, ultimately, indifferent. Those beautiful forested peaks stay there unmovable, completely oblivious to the hideous things that may happen underneath the green canopy. The trees are fascinating - they stand there, impervious to human emotions unfurling among them.

The forest proxy can be constructed in the confines of one's house, and detective Cha Youngjin has done exactly this on the balcony (inciting my burning envy). Perhaps as a way of relaxing, especially that she does not have a tv but lots of books, so this is rather a way of creating a very specific mental space for her to stay focused and unbothered by external stimuli. Given that she has a separate room for a criminal case stretching back 20 years.

The plant caregiver is mainly Go Eunho, a 15 year old kid living in an apartment below with his highly problematic mother. They met few years ago, when Youngjin moved in to her unit, and developed a true friendship, in Eunho's own words - she enriched his life. He moves freely in Youngjin's apartment, borrows books and talks about nearly everything with the woman. Especially that he can't talk with his own mother about many things - she's absent, drunk or verbally abusive. I don't want to judge her too harshly because she did not have an easy life as a single mother, but there is a grain of truth in what her current guy said - that she lashes out at Eunho because she feels he grew up to be a decent guy and she can't stand anyone better because her complexes kick in and unhinge her.

Twenty years earlier Youngjin's friend was murdered and this event put her on the path she's currently on. The whole premise is based on a lie she told at that time, when the so called "stigmata killer" called her and declared he's going to stop, that the latest victim was his last. Rattled by his phone call and her friend's death, Youngjin lies to the detective - she says the killer foreshadowed his return. So, when victims appeared 20 years later, she realized it was a personal offering from the killer. Who, ultimately, gave himself up and died when she couldn't save him.

Monotropa uniflora, also known as ghost plant (or ghost pipe), Indian pipe or corpse plant (after: Wikipedia)
As it turns out, both the "stigmata killer" and his latest victim were both the members of the New Life Church. He was constantly talking about allowing his victims to be reborn to a better life (because yeah, that's one way to do it). Mystical aspects of any religion when met with a slightly unhinged mind may produce a volatile and dangerous outcome and this is clearly one of such examples. While watching these first two episodes I had the flashback from one of The X-Files episodes called "Unruhe". There's this guy who lobotomizes women because he "sees" the troubled state of mind they are in and he knows the troubles are caused by "howlers". And true to his word, the victims are made into barely functioning but "calm" people. I will not delve more into his modus operandi or the connection to pictures, but his need to remove the howlers and in fact giving the women peace of lobotomized mind stemmed from his childhood and his own terribly fumbled mind. Here we have something similar - a disfigured need to provide a better life, against anything, and both here and in X-Files, the guy doing the terrible things see the sign on the victim meaning they were chosen.

To complicate the already tangled web of events and people - New Life Church has Foundation sponsoring the schools (New Life School that Eunho and other kids here attend) and planning to start a University. The teachers in the school are the church members, more or less active, some parents, especially the influential ones (like Ha Minseong's mother) also belong to it and are involved in sponsoring. For some, like Seonwoo, going against the community is like going against the very fabric of their being even though he declares he's not terribly active in the church. But still, it's a tight community. And his rash decision in the past made one student very bitter and turned him into a drop-out. he tries not to judge too quickly but old habits die hard.

And we have three kids involved with what's going on in the Millennium Hotel owned by Baek Sangho - the Chairman of the Foundation. I want to kill him, no, not kill, let's say make him eternally suffer. He's precisely what we can call an evil incarnated. he preys upon the vulnerable, rejected and hurt. He encircles them tighter and tighter with his seemingly bright and benevolent persona, making them think he saved them from the lowest point in their lives. He has a real gift to spot such people and mold them into his little copies, blindly obedient and without any moral brakes. He's currently circling around Ju Dongmyeong - financing his little brother's surgery, offering him dinner and painting a pretty picture of a guy who was also misunderstood and brandished a bad guy but who now works at the Foundation (currently taking care of unconscious Eunho in the hospital).

There is a lot of shots like the one above, panned out with human figures as small as ants against the corridors, walls, buildings, roads. It's a very effective way of pointing out human's insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

The friendship between Youngjin and Eunho makes her choose his case as the one she would focus on, and not the "stigmata killer". This best proves how important a little kid is in her otherwise empty life. His "accident" sets off a chain reaction involving more and more people and uncovering some shady deals and things that go both in the Millennium Hotel and the New Life Church and Foundation. And as it was mentioned - he couldn't fall from the roof and survive, even cushioned by the car on the ground, so I'm betting all my money, two kidneys and lives of all my unborn goldfish that he was pushed to his expected death by either Baek Sangho or one of his evil minions. No wonder Baek Sangho does everything he can to make Eunho's stay in the hospital comfortable - probably hoping the boy never wakes up. The man is truly demonic.

Kim Seohyeong is wonderful here as Cha Youngjin. She's seemingly detached, focused only on her work (she's incredibly competent and meticulous) and indifferent to life events, but as the series progresses, we see her façade cracking and exasperation setting in. The moment when she almost gave in to the desperation was with Kevin Jung's dead body still holding Eunho's missing backpack. I literally had to stop watching when she started to pound the wall behind her seeing the book Eunho was reading and his desperate message at the end of it. It was one of the most powerful scenes enwrapped in silence, palpable with unspoken suffering.

I will bleed the world for this kid.
The greatest tragedy here is the naïveté and trust the kids have in the adults. Even such distrustful kid like Dongmyeong, or maybe especially him because of it. Eunho has Youngjin who genuinely cares about him and is ready to move heaven and earth to help him, Minseong in theory has family, but his mother explicitly said she nearly hates him and kid is clearly in a very delicate state of mind. Dongmyeong is in a very vulnerable state in which he can be easily influenced by anyone who shows him any human treatment that he was never recipient of his entire life. Eunho was the only person who considered him a friend, and Dongmyeong is ready to do absolutely anything for him and also for his little brother. Baek Sangho sees that weak spot in the kid's armor and effectively uses it to his own advantage. Man, I hate this guy, I so so hate him.
I hope all three kids survive and lead normal, happy lives because they deserve this. But we also know that kdramas are not above killing kids, so...

They all deserve 20 years of torture. Not death. Torture.
Just have to add that Park Hun is doing a splendid job - it's been a while I hated a character so fiercely I actually scratch my desk while watching and hurling invectives at the screen. His Baek Sangho is a monster in a three-part suit and with a penchant for instant ramyeon, a monster with absolutely no sense of empathy, someone who delights in pain and suffering of others. Fuck his trauma, everyone has one or two and they don't become monsters.

Also, Yun Chan-yeong got himself a new nuna fan. Because that scene on the hotel rooftop... oh my poor heart!