This show is so good, and every episode just gets better. We’re in for a hail of answers, but don’t think that means you’ll get the ones you’re looking for. What we do get, however, pretty much blows everything else out of the water… for now, at least. This is an hour that belongs to the boys, and Ji-hoon most of all—who, despite his indomitability so far, proves to have chinks in his armor after all.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
The episode opens with a scene from the past. At school, So-woo witnesses Woo-hyuk harassing a younger student. Troubled, he thinks back to the VIP document he found in Kyung-moon’s locked drawer listing Woo-hyuk among them.
He’s posted a picture of the words “VIP” on the Sentinel message board where Kyung-moon sees it. He’s disturbed by the legend beneath: “Unthinking fools run lawless and triumphant. I don’t like this kind of world.”
When So-woo leaves school, he finds Kyung-moon waiting for him in a car outside. They relocate to a spot by the river, where Kyung-moon asks him to take down the photo. So-woo laughs. “Is that a request or a threat?” he asks. He notes how all the names on the list were connected to powerful people—daughters of politicians, chaebol grandsons and so on.
Kyung-moon points out that the school’s scholarships and other resources are all thanks to VIP funding. So-woo scorns Kyung-moon’s argument that it’s a system that harms no one, pointing out that while he may see the school as a for-profit business, “To us, Jeongguk High is a school. However things are in the world outside, the kids here work hard believing that in school, at least, their achievements are the sum of their efforts.”
Agreeing, Kyung-moon tells So-woo that exposing the truth would only hurt the kids. He wants So-woo to delete the picture from the Sentinel page and go back to being an ordinary student. He even offers to arrange a quiet transfer, if that would make So-woo more comfortable.
But So-woo surprises Kyung-moon by tossing his phone into the river. He says he already deleted the post and didn’t back up the photos. “But aren’t you afraid of what I’ll do with your secret?” he asks, smiling. But satisfied it’s over, Kyung-moon turns back to his car. So-woo calls out that they’ll be seeing each other again soon.
And now we return to the school trial in the present. Ji-hoon is astounded by Sung-min’s testimony about how So-woo got into the fight on purpose because he wanted to meet someone—and that he had met them, although Sung-min can’t tell him who it was. Kyung-moon observes from a distance, unseen by Ji-hoon.
Ji-hoon takes a moment to gather himself and then addresses judge Min-seok. He concludes that Sung-min’s testimony shows that the lab fight was instigated by So-woo, and Woo-hyuk saying that he killed him was just talk.
During the recess, Seo-yeon catches Ji-hoon to tell him to make sure Woo-hyuk attends the next part. She says it would be a meaningful experience for him to see her next witness.
The hearing resumes. The next witness arrives. His uniform marking him as a student from a different school sets the hall buzzing. Woo-hyuk and the others peer at him in unrecognition while he swears himself in. His name is PARK HEE-JOON.
Seo-yeon asks him his relationship to Woo-hyuk, and Hee-joon says he only met him once last spring. “I was beaten up. By that hyung,” he says, looking towards Woo-hyuk, who responds in surprise.
Seo-yeon horrifies the room with a series of photos of Hee-joon’s injuries. Ji-hoon shoots up in objection, but he’s overruled when Seo-yeon argues heatedly that it’s relevant in illustrating Woo-hyuk’s character. She wants to hear Hee-joon’s testimony to find out if Woo-hyuk could be capable of murder.
Hee-joon describes the incident. He had bumped into Woo-hyuk by accident, spilling milk on him. He apologized, but Woo-hyuk beat him so viciously that he only regained consciousness in hospital. His injuries also included a concussion from being kicked in the head, and a ruptured eardrum. He describes the pain and the fear he felt, and his relief that he mostly recovered.
He says that he expected Woo-hyuk to receive punishment, but instead, the Choi family lawyer just made a monetary settlement with his father, telling him that Woo-hyuk would be let off anyway, so he might as well take the money.
Hee-joon says he felt wronged, and recalls asking to meet Woo-hyuk many times, but everyone refused him—his parents, the lawyers, and even the police. Seo-yeon asks if he wasn’t scared to meet him, but Hee-joon replies that he had something he had to ask, and that’s why he took her up on the trial right away. She invites him to say what he has to say.
He comes to stand before Woo-hyuk, and says, “I’m curious as to why you hit me, hyung.” He says he thought that maybe he was unlucky, but “unlucky” is when your cell phone smacks you in the face at night. That day, Woo-hyuk just looked at him and decided to hit him. He asks again, why?
Woo-hyuk says he doesn’t know, and Hee-joon replies, “Then apologize to me. You haven’t said one word of apology to me. Apologize.” You could cut the tension in this room with a knife.
“I don’t want to,” Woo-hyuk says, lip curling. “Why do I have to apologize? You received a lot of money, after all.” Hee-joon shoves his hands into his pockets at his reply, but then, quick as a flash, he pulls his hand out and empties a carton of milk over Woo-hyuk. Woo-hyuk leaps up in rage, although he’s immediately restrained by his guards.
“Will it be okay if I give you money now, too?” Hee-joon asks. Growling angrily, Woo-hyuk shakes off the guards and leaves. The defense team go after him, leaving only Ji-hoon, who stares at Hee-joon with… compassion?
Breathing heavily, Hee-joon turns to Seo-yeon and thanks her, saying he’s said what he wanted to say. After he leaves, Seo-yeon addresses the jury, pointing out Woo-hyuk’s violence and lack of remorse. She concludes that the prosecution thinks him capable of murdering So-woo. Surprisingly, Ji-hoon has nothing to add, so Min-seok adjourns for the day.
Seo-yeon finds Hee-joon outside. Wiping his eyes, he says the tears just sort of came out. Aw, this kid. He apologizes for causing a ruckus, but confesses that he’d planned to do that from the beginning (little badass), to have some little piece of revenge.
He tells her that what distressed him most all this time was the image of his own helplessness. But he thinks he won’t think of that anymore now, thanks to today. Smiling, he wishes her the best for the trial.
Joo-ri watches the video clip of Woo-hyuk getting milked (hee). She rewinds the moment over and over, and casually tells her mom she’s not moving. “I’m going to watch over him and see just how far he falls,” she says.
While showering, Woo-hyuk recalls his attack on Hee-joon, with something like self-loathing. When he returns to the defense HQ, his girlfriend Hye-rin fusses over him and complains to the defense team that now everyone thinks Woo-hyuk’s trash.
“You guys don’t know how tenderhearted and warm this guy is,” she says, divulging how much he cried over his grandma’s death. Woo-hyuk snaps at her again to be quiet, and finally heads off when his ride arrives.
Sung-min comes by too late with a change of clothes. Ji-hoon takes him aside for a word, and asks him why Woo-hyuk beat that kid up. Eventually, Sung-min explains that Woo-hyuk’s dad beats his mom, too. On those days, Woo-hyuk drinks himself to oblivion, or he goes out and beats up someone else.
Ji-hoon tells him that being the victim of violence isn’t an excuse to perpetrate it. Sung-min retorts that Woo-hyuk knows that, but he can’t control his anger. “But don’t give up defending him,” he asks, “Even if he did a hundred other things wrong, he didn’t kill Lee So-woo.”
But Ji-hoon says they can’t prove that. Sung-min discloses that he also saw the mystery guy in Woo-hyuk’s house that day, meeting Woo-hyuk’s dad. He describes the man as having heavy scarring on his face. But Dad had gotten really angry and told Woo-hyuk not to say anything about it, so Sung-min didn’t either.
Before Sung-min goes, Ji-hoon asks if he knows anything else about the person So-woo wanted to meet, but that’s all Sung-min’s got.
Woo-hyuk’s mom comes out to meet him when he gets home. His dad barks furiously at them both, and Mom argues that Woo-hyuk’s in this situation because of Dad. But she shrinks when he raises an angry hand, and Woo-hyuk yells at him to stop. Switching target, Dad follows Woo-hyuk inside.
Meanwhile, the principal has a conference with the dean and supervising teachers, complaining about the trial (and his own poor showing). The dean tells him to forcibly shut the club down, but the homeroom teacher, TEACHER PARK, reminds them that they got here because the dean hit Seo-yeon. That’s some good shade, Saem.
Teacher Kim adds that the trial opened due to the will of the students, and challenges the dean to bring five hundred opposing student signatures to close it. The meeting is cut short when the already frazzled principal gets a call from the PTA head.
At the Foundation offices, Kyung-moon receives the VIP list for the new school year, and notes how it’s much shorter. His aide explains that a lot of people dropped out due to the Lee So-woo case. Kyung-moon’s face darkens.
Joon-young and Seo-yeon are hard at work in the clubroom…and then the camera pans to Joon-young’s screen filled with random stuff (“When are we finishiiiiiiiiing”), HAHA. Your crush is so cute it kills me! Finally finished, Seo-yeon stretches, and he mirrors her. Suddenly, Seo-yeon’s nose starts to bleed, and she grins, telling Joon-young that a nosebleed makes her feel proud of herself for working hard. He laughs, totally smitten.
At home, Seo-yeon scrolls through the message board comments condemning Woo-hyuk. She texts the Sentinel in worry about whether she’s doing the right thing. As the Sentinel, Ji-hoon tells her not to forget the thought that she started all of this with.
Thinking of the person So-woo wanted to meet, Ji-hoon tries to log in to the Sentinel webpage, without any luck. Later, he asks his father if he ever met So-woo on his own. Kyung-moon readily confirms that he went to see him after the fight, explaining that he was worried.
Hesitantly, Ji-hoon asks, “Is it possible that the person he hoped to meet was you—” Kyung-moon cuts him off, saying that it doesn’t make sense for So-woo to take such a roundabout way of meeting him when he was always at their house. Smiling, he tells Ji-hoon he’s overthinking it, although he flashes back to a memory of himself smacking So-woo across the face that day at the river.
Closeting himself in his study, Kyung-moon signs a school policy amendment that would allow the principal to expel students involved in “unapproved collective action.”
The next day, Seo-yeon gets a call from So-woo’s brother, Tae-woo. She and the girls head to his place, where he shows them a separate phone line in So-woo’s room. So-woo had had installed about a month before his death, and his mom just remembered about it now.
Tae-woo tells them that he found something strange in the call record: On Christmas day, So-woo was telephoned five times, but Tae-woo doesn’t know who it was since nobody picked up when he called back. The girls take down the numbers.
Back outside, Seo-yeon identifies all the numbers as landlines. Noting that the last call was over twenty minutes long, she thinks the caller must be someone So-woo knew. Moreover, it was at 11:00 p.m., and they’re chilled at how close it is to his time of death. Calling directory enquiries, Yoo-jin finds out that the number is a pay phone—all five of them are.
They visit Detective Oh and share their new information. Seo-yeon suspects Woo-hyuk called So-woo out using a pay phone to cover his tracks, but Oh doesn’t think that matches with Woo-hyuk’s impulsive nature at all. She’s impressed that they found evidence that the police didn’t, but cautions Seo-yeon not to make assumptions, advising her instead to look at what the evidence is really telling her.
The defense team boys return to their base and find Woo-hyuk’s mom waiting for them. She wants to see Ji-hoon alone, so they relocate. Ji-hoon’s expression is a mask, maybe because we’ve both guessed what’s behind the sunglasses Mom’s wearing.
Mom tells him that Woo-hyuk was with her that night, and takes off her sunglasses to reveal a black eye. “I was beaten by my husband, and Woo-hyuk took me to the ER at that time,” she tells him, a sob in her voice. She adds that her husband threatened to beat her again if Woo-hyuk breathed a word, so he never did, despite everything.
“I’ll testify,” she says, “Please prove my Woo-hyuk’s innocence.” But Ji-hoon won’t allow it, since she’s sure to get beaten all the same. He asks her to bear it a little longer, after all Woo-hyuk’s gone through to protect her.
“I understand Woo-hyuk’s feelings and respect them,” he says earnestly, and asks her instead to tell him about their mystery scarred visitor. “That way, you can reveal Choi Woo-hyuk’s innocence. You can end living like this, too. Hide behind me,” Ji-hoon urges.
Meanwhile, the girls run all over the city, looking for the pay phones that match their numbers. They’re in all different places, including a hospital and a columbarium. It’s dark by the time they track down the last one, the source of the twenty-minute call.
Seo-yeon spots a grandpa settled in the stationery shop across the street from the pay phone, and goes to introduce herself. The grandpa admits he noticed them loitering around the phone (which they probably don’t know how to use, he adds, haha), and recognizes their school name because of the trial.
On Christmas night, the grandpa tells them that he saw a male student use that phone for a while. When he saw the news of So-woo’s death the next day, he figured it was the same student, because that was the saddest kid he ever saw, crying his heart out. Everyone thinking what I’m thinking? Seo-yeon shows him a series of photos to see if he can pick the kid out, but he doesn’t recognize any of them, including So-woo and Woo-hyuk.
The girls discuss their findings, and Seo-yeon says it’s possible that the reason the grandpa didn’t recognize the face is because it wasn’t there—the kid made too much of an impression on him for him to forget so easily, she notes. She says they have to share this new information with the other side.
At his computer, Ji-hoon puts down all the information he has about Woo-hyuk’s alibi: the ER, the masked man, his dad forbidding him to speak. Figuring something out, he writes at the bottom, “The Flame Master.”
Ji-hoon surprises Seo-yeon’s dad with a visit to the police station the next day. Ji-hoon notes that the finance team being on an arson case already proves his suspicions, but Dad points out that the arson and the school trial are not at all connected. Ji-hoon argues that the witness for Woo-hyuk’s alibi is the Flame Master who also happens to be Dad’s perp, and Woo-hyuk is the witness of the Flame Master’s crime.
Dad is taken aback by Ji-hoon’s knowledge of the Flame Master, a professional arsonist, but says Woo-hyuk seeing the guy in his house isn’t evidence that he committed a crime—it wasn’t even the same day as the fire. That’s a connection they have to investigate, Ji-hoon says a little too urgently. Catching himself, he apologizes, explaining that he really wants to vindicate Woo-hyuk, and the Flame Master is his sole witness.
Increasingly suspicious, Dad asks Ji-hoon why exactly he’s doing this trial. Looking down, Ji-hoon replies seriously, “Because I’m responsible.” Catching himself again, he quickly says that he’s responsible for the defense. The detectives remain skeptical. Afterwards, however, Dad goes back to CEO Choi’s call records.
It looks like Dad pulled an all-nighter, because he pops home quickly while the family is having breakfast. Seo-yeon asks if he’s still on the arson case, and he tells her it’s all about to end, although she has no idea what he means.
The police go to arrest an angrily protesting CEO Choi, while Woo-hyuk looks anxiously on. Seo-yeon’s dad steps forward and tells him that the Flame Master already confessed everything. After a telling moment, CEO Choi insists he’s never heard that name. But it’s no use, and the police take him away.
Woo-hyuk’s mom emerges from the building and Woo-hyuk runs anxiously to her. To his surprise, she says harshly that his father was arrested because he was worthy of arrest, and goes back inside.
Seo-yeon shares her new information about the Christmas night mystery caller with the whole club. Swallowing, Ji-hoon asks if she found out who it was. She tells them about the grandpa and how he didn’t recognize any of the photos she showed him. “Someone unknown to us is tangled up in Lee So-woo’s case,” she concludes.
They’re interrupted as Ji-hoon gets a call. He tells them that Woo-hyuk wants to quit the trial, and runs out, Joon-young following. They finally find Woo-hyuk, who grumbles about the humiliation he’s suffered. “This already crappy life of mine is now ruined,” he says.
Ji-hoon speaks up and says that his life isn’t ruined without his father around. Shocked, Woo-hyuk asks how he knew that. Ji-hoon tells him how his mom came looking for him, but he refused to let her testify. So she told him what really happened that night, and he told the police.
Enraged, Woo-hyuk knocks Ji-hoon down, and then drags him up again by the lapels, shaking him angrily. “He started the fire! He made a family member die,” Ji-hoon says, “Your life is better without that someone like that in it.”
Half-crying, Woo-hyuk asks him how he could have any idea what he’s feeling. But that snaps something in Ji-hoon, who shoves Woo-hyuk back. “I know!” he yells, “Though I don’t want to admit it, I know all too well.”
Putting down his bag, he then strips his clothes off layer by layer, until he’s down to his T-shirt. He points to a long scar on his forearm—that’s from a broken bottle, he says. He points to another at his collarbone, to a cigarette burn on the other arm. His whole body is covered with scars from endless beatings, he tells him.
Woo-hyuk stares, horror-struck. Face crumpling, Ji-hoon continues: “That creature who was my birth father… he beat my mother to death before my eyes. Do I still not know how you feel?”
Oof. There’s something in my eye. Ji-hoon sure doesn’t do anything by halves, does he? Whether it’s keeping a secret or exposing one. As a character, he’s given so little away that this is just huge. All along, Ji-hoon has seemed so effortlessly adult, always a step or twelve ahead of everyone, including the actual adults. But his aura of omniscience and control has been slipping all episode, and he looked increasingly fragile. His flickers of emotion have always been telling, but this is Ji-hoon—literally—laid bare, in a powerful, affecting scene.
It’s certainly no accident that the witnesses to his confession are only Woo-hyuk and Joon-young. Though Ji-hoon might not know about Joon-young, I think both boys have earned this truth from him through their own hardships, and I appreciate the directorial choice that puts Joon-young equally in the scene, connecting the three of them together. If you’ve been keeping an eye on him (and I admit I have), you’ll notice how watchful he’s been of those subtle behavioral cues that clue him into his peers’ more complex feelings and motives — insight that undoubtedly comes from his own darker thoughts.
The little snippets about So-woo paint an increasingly complicated picture, and the more pieces we have, the harder it becomes to read somehow. I still can’t reconcile what Tae-woo said about him (as being more likely to be a murderer than a victim) into my conception of So-woo, but with this week’s episodes, he proves as much a chess-player back then as Ji-hoon now. (Which begs the question: Was Ji-hoon like this before, or did he become this way since So-woo died?) But something must have gone badly wrong with his plan, because he cannot have meant to end up dead. (…unless he’s not dead at all and this is all a big conspiracy?! Okay, just kidding—I’m pretty sure that that much is true.) See, this is what this drama does! It makes you second-guess everything.
I think the show deliberately offers us Kyung-moon as the Big Bad, but I’m increasingly convinced that that’s a feint—while at the same time sure that nobody casts Jo Jae-hyun to pretend to (not?) be the bad guy. All that said, this is a show that on its deepest level asks us to match the actions up to the characters, but this very episode, reminded us through Detective Oh not to do so recklessly.
Looking at what we know about Kyung-moon, though he’s not above dodgy business dealings, there’s nothing to suggest he resorts to violence or murder (although he does seem capable of it, but maybe that’s my residual feelings from his turn as noodle-making axe-murderer). And then there’s his relationship with Ji-hoon, which is genuinely warm and caring from both sides, and it makes sense to assume he knows very well about his son’s past. It’s hard to think of him as a loving father rescuing a kid from abuse, only to murder (or instigate the murder of) another kid. Maybe we can take at face value what he said to So-woo by the river, that he’s provoking something far bigger, and there are more villains yet to come into play. To be honest, I don’t quite believe that at this late stage, but nor do I disbelieve it. Who really knows what to believe right now?
Solomon has a gift for producing this really effective character work in its small moments, and this episode is peppered with them: the teachers standing up to the principal, grumpypants Min-seok and his utter suitability as the judge, the interactions between Woo-hyuk and Hye-rin, and most notably this hour, the testimony of little Hee-joon. In a short time, he comes off as such a full person. Diffident, sweet, and brave, he goes from victim to victor in the space of ten minutes and you care. This was a great reversal point overall, as the tables turn with Ji-hoon now getting schooled by Seo-yeon. Looking back on the episode, we can probably pinpoint his cracking to the moment he takes in the horrific extent of Hee-hoon’s injuries, and the fact of Woo-hyuk’s infliction. It seems like the first time he really doubts the merit of what he’s doing defending someone like Woo-hyuk, who, as much as he’s a victim of his father’s violence, is a mighty perpetrator in his own right and has much to pay for.
Nevertheless, Woo-hyuk keeps us emotionally invested in him, even more so now that he’s begun the seedling process of self-examination. I really like his dynamic with Hye-rin—they both have abrasive personalities, and she’s not afraid of him. In that scene with her earlier, he becomes almost teddybearish—a sullen teddybear to be sure, but no longer poised at the edge of violence like he is so much of the time (and with his mom, he becomes a marshmallow entirely… an angry, vulnerable marshmallow). Or maybe this is a new Woo-hyuk altogether: one that’s learning to feel remorse, one that’s grieving over his grandma, and perhaps, one that is willing to face the consequences of his actions. We’re not really anywhere nearer to knowing what happened on the roof that fateful night, but what we’ve learnt about the players somehow lets us understand that no matter how things look, Woo-hyuk isn’t a murderer, Ji-hoon doesn’t have everything under his control, and So-woo’s secrets are still his own.