I can’t believe this is the series finale. It’s been a long road and I want to thank everyone who’s read along for coming on this ride with me. There are a few of you who I noticed jumped on board right away. Others discovered these recaps a little later, but I appreciated everyone stopping by all the same. As a newbie recapper, I sure did pick a doozy of a series to tackle and know I acquitted myself imperfectly at best. But it’s truly been fun so I hope to see everyone again on the next series recapped on the site.
For today, I’ll just be publishing the recap. I’ll come back soon and update the post with my final thoughts.
EPISODE 24 (FINAL) RECAP
With Chairman Yoon’s ledger in hand and Park Tae-soo in custody, Kang Woo-suk has learned of Kang Tong-hwan’s involvement in the kickback scheme and decides to subpoena Mr. Kang so he can officially question him. He tells his clerk, Mr. Oh, he wants the subpoena by the next morning. He knows it will be difficult to procure it so if Mr. Oh has to spend the night getting it, that’s what he needs to do, he tells him. Mr. Oh tells Woo-suk he’ll get it done just as two men walk into the office. One of the men flashes a badge and tells Woo-suk the deputy chief wants to see him.
Mr. Oh tells the officer to have the deputy chief make an appointment, but the officer doesn’t listen. He pushes past Mr. Oh and stands in front of Woo-suk staring him down. Woo-suk realizes he’s being taken into custody due to the investigation and asks if this is an official request to speak with him. The officer doesn’t know, and Woo-suk prepares to leave with him. But Detective Chang arrives and tells Woo-suk not to go. The deputy chief should come to him if he wants to talk, he says.
Woo-suk ignores Det. Chang and leaves anyway, but his team doesn’t want to give in so easily. As soon as the car pulls off, the driver has to slam on the brakes because Detective Baik and Sergeant Cho Myung-woo run up and block its path. Det. Baik runs to the rear passenger door and opens it, telling Woo-suk to come back to the office. Sgt. Cho subdues the driver, who tries to get out and intervene, and Det. Baik grabs the officer who escorted Woo-suk to the car as he tries to stop the pair as well.
Woo-suk remains studiously calm during the commotion. He finally gets out of the car, but it’s just to assure Det. Baik and Sgt. Cho that he’ll be fine. He tells Det. Baik and Sgt. Cho he’ll be back as soon as he’s finished speaking with the deputy chief, then he turns back to the officer escorting him to the deputy chief and gets back in the car.
The next day, the head DA and Prosecutor Shin (the other prosecutor working the case with Woo-suk) meet with Chang To-shik. They want Woo-suk released, but Chang tells them the administration feels that publicizing the details of Chairman Yoon’s case could threaten the survival of the government. Therefore, they won’t release Woo-suk until the head DA and Prosecutor Shin, as his supervisor and sunbae, give their word that they’ll convince him to back off the investigation.
When the head DA and Prosecutor Shin don’t seem amenable to talking Woo-suk down, Chang tells them Woo-suk has been implicated in a scandal stemming from his military service during the Kwangju Uprising. According to Chang, Woo-suk disobeyed orders from his superiors on several occasions while on duty and they are aware of Tae-soo, Woo-suk’s close friend, being in Kwangju during that time.
Chang threatens to use this information as a basis for charges that Woo-suk has designs of overthrowing the government. (This lame excuse is almost as bad as the judge in Episode 22 claiming he had to release Jong-do on bail because Kwangju residents don’t like to see other Kwangju citizens in jail.)
Luckily, the head DA is not phased by the feeble attempt to blackmail them. He tells Chang that his logic is flawed. Woo-suk is not the only prosecutor they have working the case, he says, and if Woo-suk is unable to continue the investigation, then Prosecutor Shin will. “If you want to take Prosecutor Shin away from us, we’ll just have to find someone else. We have plenty more prosecutors, you know?” the head DA tells him.
News of Woo-suk’s disappearance has reached Chung Sun-young by then and she travels to Seoul all the way from Kwangju and bursts into Woo-suk’s office demanding to know where he is. She’s angry to see the staff still at work even though her husband is missing and asks why they’re not out looking for him. They can’t tell her what’s going on because the investigation is still confidential so she leaves in a huff. Mr. Oh follows her out though. He tells her Woo-suk’s disappearance is related to their investigation of a few high level governmental officials. He assures her that Woo-suk is being taken care of and will be fine.
Sun-young doesn’t want to take Mr. Oh’s word for it so she turns to Reporter Shin Young-jin. She wants Reporter Shin to write an article on Woo-suk’s detainment, but Reporter Shin tells her they don’t have enough facts or information to write an article much less convince her editors to publish it. She does have an idea where they may be able to get more information though, and she invites Sun-young to come with her to see Yoon Hye-rin.
Hye-rin agrees to help. Although she doesn’t have her father’s ledger anymore, she gives Reporter Shin notes on the important parts of it to use in her article and fills her in on the investigation. Reporter Shin asks if releasing the contents of the ledger will hurt her casino and Hye-rin admits that it will. But Woo-suk is more important than a casino, she says.
Sun-young looks at Hye-rin when she says this. She recognizes Hye-rin from the time Hye-rin visited the boarding house when Woo-suk was a tenant there. Hye-rin tells Sun-young she and Woo-suk were friends in college. She admits Woo-suk coolly rejected her back then and now that she sees Sun-young, she can understand why. If she had married Woo-suk, he would never have been detained because he wouldn’t have been handling the case. “No one can match Woo-suk when it comes to righteousness,” she says, and Sun-young smiles and says she knows.
Reporter Shin has finished taking notes by then and is ready to get back to the office to submit the story before her deadline. She works through the night and in the morning she submits the article for publication. The headline reads: Secret Ledger by Casino Kingpin—Investigating Prosecutor Missing.
Meanwhile, the administration is busy trying to dig up dirt on Woo-suk, but the investigators charged with doing a background check on him can only lament the fact that they can’t find anything.
Reporter Shin is dismayed the next day to open the paper and find the article she wrote on Woo-suk’s detainment is not there. She goes to her editor’s office to complain, but he’s not sympathetic. He has a family to take care of and publishing the story wouldn’t change anything anyway, he says. Reporter Shin saucily remarks that she’s not asking to change the world. “I just want to get my story published. That’s what I’m being paid to do,” she says before she storms out.
For all her bravado though, she’s genuinely hurt and frustrated, and she ends up going to the printing press room and crying in one of the corners. The guy in charge of running the press finds her there. He read her article and gives her the idea to publish it independently if it means that much to her. He has a friend who runs an independent publishing company and takes her to see him.
The independent publisher is willing to print the story in spite of the risk he’d be taking. He points to the other men working in the room and tells Reporter Shin they’re all there illegally. She will need to add to the article so that it can fill a page and justify the expense of printing it, he says, but otherwise he’s in.
Reporter Shin gets Hye-rin and Sun-young involved. Hye-rin donates money to defray the costs and Sun-young cooks ramen for the employees as they work through the night to print the article. It’s dawn before they’re finished, but the men soldier on and set about distributing the article. The headline reads: Prosecutor Kang Woo-suk Missing, and people on their morning commute begin picking it up and reading. It looks like it’s going to be a success!
With the story quickly spreading, the powers-that-be in government are livid. A senior official calls Chang to berate him for allowing the story to leak. Chang tells him the article is true, money did change hands between casino magnate Yoon Jae-young and government officials, and there’s a ledger to prove it. Luckily there is only one name in the ledger, Kang Tong-hwan, and Chang says they’ll have to sacrifice someone, i.e. Mr. Kang, for the stability of the country because it’s too late for a thorough cover-up.
The senior officials must have agreed with Chang because the next thing we know, Woo-suk is free and the Prosecutor’s Office gets the go-ahead to arrest Mr. Kang. Detectives Chang and Baik escort him into the office through the mob of reporters that seem to camp outside now. Mr. Kang uses the opportunity to declare to the press he’s an innocent victim of a conspiracy orchestrated to save the government.
During the interrogation, he sticks to his claim that he’s been framed. Woo-suk refuses to believe him, but Mr. Kang points out that even if he is involved in the kickback scheme, he has no incentive to admit as much to the Prosecutor’s Office. He can’t trust anyone except his colleagues, he says. Then he arrogantly assures Woo-suk he’s not powerful enough to bring him down.
Seemingly unaware that the administration has abandoned him, Mr. Kang goes to trial on the charges against him. Hye-rin is one of the first to testify in the case. She testifies that she personally saw her father deliver a suitcase containing $250K to Mr. Kang during a lunch in October 1980. She says the money was likely gratuity because Mr. Kang provided her father with contacts within the government to facilitate his business arrangements.
The defense attorney brings up her relationship with Woo-suk to imply she’s giving false evidence to help the government’s case. But Hye-rin says her casino is under investigation for tax evasion and is facing a judgment of several hundred thousand dollars. It makes no sense that she’d fabricate stories about her own father or risk that amount of money for a college friend who is now another woman’s husband, she responds.
After Hye-rin’s testimony, Woo-suk calls Lawyer Min and Tae-soo as witnesses. Lawyer Min confirms delivering bribes to Mr. Kang via secret Swiss bank accounts and Tae-soo tells the court that Mr. Kang introduced him to President Park Seung-chol. He explains that Chairman Yoon used President Park as a strawman for some of his slot machine businesses until Mr. Kang decided to replace Chairman Yoon altogether. When Chairman Yoon threatened not to make payments unless he was allowed to develop the Mt. Chili area, Mr. Kang brought him on board to siphon money to him, he says.
Tae-soo implicates Chang To-shik in the matter as well. He tells the court that Chang was present during their discussions, and after hearing Tae-soo’s testimony, Woo-suk announces his intent to call Chang to the stand.
The court goes into recess and Woo-suk happens to see Mr. Kang’s lawyer talking to Chang. He visits Mr. Kang in jail and asks if his lawyer stopped by to pass on a message from Chang. Mr. Kang looks up at Woo-suk and doesn’t respond. He seems sad though. He must have finally learned that the administration has abandoned him.
The next day, the prosecution calls Chang to the stand and Prosecutor Shin (the other prosecutor working the case) handles his direct examination. Chang doesn’t reveal much information though. He claims he had no idea Mr. Kang was involved in a kickback scheme. According to him, he only heard about the scandal after the administration began investigating Mr. Kang because someone reported him for enjoying a lifestyle much too lavish for his pay grade. He refuses to answer questions about the investigation though, claiming that’s classified information, so the prosecution essentially ends up getting nothing from him.
The judge allows Mr. Kang to make a statement before the panel deliberates and he remains as arrogant as ever. “I can’t adequately express the deep sorrow I feel for the disgrace this has caused our society. I have devoted the last 20 years of my life to making this a better country. And I think I’ve always done my absolute best. If it will help our country, I’m fully prepared to accept all responsibility. I’ll let history be the judge of my loyalty,” he says.
In the end he receives a four-year sentence (which seems light to me), but the citizens seem to be appeased.
Tae-soo’s trial is next. We don’t get to see it, but apparently the court returned a guilty verdict. All that’s left is the sentencing hearing and Woo-suk goes to the head DA and asks him to assign the case to someone else. The head DA gets angry that he’s waited until it’s time for the Prosecutor’s Office to suggest a sentence to back out of the case. He demands Woo-suk’s resignation if he’s not able to proceed and says he’ll have the new prosecutor reinitiate the investigation too because he can’t trust an investigation conducted by an imposter.
Woo-suk goes to the jail to visit Tae-soo afterwards and delivers the news that he’s off the case. Tae-soo won’t let him quit though. He doesn’t want to accept his punishment from anyone else, he says. Woo-suk finally tells Tae-soo that he was in Kwangju during the Uprising and saw Tae-soo during the shootout that killed his friend. The bullet that hit your friend was from my unit, he says. But Tae-soo still won’t listen. “What happened after that is what’s important,” Tae-soo says, “How we both lived after that. One of us lived like you and one of us lived like me.” A tear falls from Woo-suk’s eye and he drops his head. Tae-soo sits beside him and apologizes, “but no one else will do,” he says.
The next thing we know, it’s reckoning day and everyone is present to hear Woo-suk’s closing argument at Tae-soo’s sentencing hearing. Hye-rin is one of the first to arrive. Sun-young is already there and soon Chang and Reporter Shin arrive too.
During his speech, Woo-suk says there’s something called common sense—that thing inside that lets us know what’s right and what’s wrong. Too often people ignore that thing inside because it takes sacrifice and courage to do what’s right. As for the Defendant, he’s had many opportunities during his 30 years of life to change his ways and do what’s right, but each time he chose the easy way out. The choices he made go against society’s sense of common sense and decency, and his choice to do the wrong thing is the first of his crimes.
Woo-suk pauses for a moment, then he continues, saying:
“Throughout my investigation of the Defendant’s personal life, I felt the defendant was sincerely remorseful for his past mistakes. Even though he feels remorse, we cannot forgive him his crimes. This is necessary in order to preserve common sense in our society. Hence, after considering all the facts of this case-organized crime, acts of violence, unlawful evasion of prosecution, murder, and crimes committed as a fugitive . . .”
His voice cracks and he stops talking and turns to look at Tae-soo. There’s a long silence as Tae-soo lifts his head to look Woo-suk in the eyes. Finally Woo-suk whispers the last part of the sentence: “we ask for the death penalty.” The papers he’s holding fall from his hand and he looks almost ill as he stands there letting the words he just uttered sink in.
The scene then cuts to archival footage of events surrounding the 1987 presidential election. Although not depicted in the series, the country had grown tired of the ruling political party’s military control of the country and public sentiment strongly favored democratic reform. It looked like the opposition party would finally have its chance to run the country, but the opposition party was unable to agree on a candidate. Two opposition members ended up running for office and split the vote. As a result, the ruling party’s candidate, Roh Tae-woo, won the 1987 election.
The court announces Tae-soo’s sentence just before the election. He’s sentenced to death and his execution day is set shortly after Roh Tae-woo is sworn in as the country’s sixth president.
A guard opens the door to his cell to take him to the execution chambers, and we can see the toll being on death row has taken on him. He has dark circles under his eyes and he looks as though he’s not quite sane. Outside, he stares up at the sun for a long moment and the sky looks dark and gloomy instead of light and bright to him.
In the execution chamber, one of the executioners confirms his name, date of birth and ID number and asks if he was sentenced to death on March 2, 1987. Tae-soo confirms that he was and the executioner announces they’re there to carry out his death sentence. The executioner gives him the opportunity to make a statement, but instead of speaking, he asks to see Woo-suk, who is present in the execution chamber with several other officials.
When Woo-suk comes over to him, he asks if he’s shaking. Woo-suk assures him he’s not and Tae-soo says that’s his fear—that he’ll get scared. Woo-suk tells him he’s doing fine and Tae-soo nods and gives Woo-suk his mother’s ring. Then he visibly tries to calm himself (because he actually is shaking a bit) and he turns back toward the front of the room where the officials are waiting to begin the execution.
Woo-suk goes back to the observation area and the executioner gives Tae-soo his final chance to make a statement. Tae-soo doesn’t say anything. Instead, he looks around as if he’s searching for someone. He finally spots Woo-suk standing against the back wall and he keeps his eyes firmly on Woo-suk until the executioner places a white bag over his head. Then the screen fades to black and there’s a loud bang.
Woo-suk and Hye-rin take Tae-soo’s ashes to Mount Chili as his final resting place. We can only see their silhouettes as Hye-rin holds the urn with Tae-soo’s ashes and they look out over the summit as the sun sets.
Woo-suk: Why don’t you let him go now?
Hye-rin: To where?
Woo-suk: Anywhere. Anywhere but here.
Hye-rin takes the top off the urn and holds a handful of ashes in her hand and lets the wind start carrying the ashes away.
Hye-rin: What have we accomplished by sending him away like this?
Woo-suk: Nothing yet.
Hye-rin: But did you have to execute him?
Woo-suk: I said not yet. I don’t know yet. A friend asked me when I would know. I answered, “It’s not over yet. Perhaps it’ll never end.” It doesn’t really matter anyway. Our friend who just left us once said, “After that turns to ashes, it’s what happens later that’s important. Don’t forget, it’s what you do with your life later.”
Hye-rin continues to let the wind carry Tae-soo’s ashes away and the episode ends.
FINAL THOUGHTS COMING SOON
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