Open Thread: Beyond Evil Episode 8

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them

Margaret Atwood

To call this a mid-season finale is an understatement. Beyond Evil wraps up its (apparent) main plotline, leaving us and our main characters confused and lost as to what comes after. But as Han Joo-won and Lee Dong-shik finally get their man, they discover that the hard work of getting closure for his crimes might just be starting.

Kang Jin-mook breaks the fourth wall looking at us smugly

Closure and the ability to grieve and move on is definitely one of this show’s themes and the needs for answers, reasons and reflection permeates episode 8 as we head towards the end of the first half. Jin-mook releases Min-jung’s body for burial and everyone involved is allowed to grieve. But for the other victims? They’re either lying in the morgue waiting for friends or family who will never come or still missing: buried wherever Jin-mook put them.

To find them, they need a confession. But for a man who has lived his life as a long-con on the people around him – his true nature disguised by a facade of fawning helplessness – he’s enjoying too much the frisson that comes from being seen for the man he believes himself to be. A superior one. One who could murder with impunity while being cared for by his community.

Dong-shik is the chief mourner at a funeral with the other police officers behind him

Before I launch into the body of this recap I will say one thing that didn’t fit into my review of episode 7 and that I think bears saying. In the first episode, I talked about the way in which the violence against women that nearly always underpins these narratives is inherently voyeuristic. For episode 7 and 8 – but especially 8 – this is a real problem as the production tries to horrify us with the violence perpetrated by Kang Jin-mook but ends up inevitably with a sense of torture porn; a kind of fetishisation of violence against women.

Jin-mook was – as nearly all of these men are – a violent misogynist struggling with social emasculation. He kills those he can’t fool or control and Beyond Evil spends slightly too much time on showing us his crimes in all their visceral horror. It means that I didn’t enjoy these two episodes as much as others and I wished the show had spent less time on dark flashbacks of women being beaten and killed than it did. The detail that Min-jung was actually still alive when Jin-mook buried her in the kimchi pot also seems gratuitously horrific.

Still, Beyond Evil has never fallen into the other trap that shows like this can do – only casting women for parts if they want them to be a victim or deliberately diminishing strong female characters just so the male lead can save them as a way to prop him. Yes I’m looking at you, Voice. And you, He is Psychometric. And you, Vampire Detective… God, we’d be here all day…

Anyway, Beyond Evil‘s extended detour into torture porn is balanced with a number of complex female characters who don’t exist just so they can at some point be saved by our male lead(s). One of these, as I mentioned last week is Yoo Jae-yi who raced to find where Jin-mook may have buried her long-missing mother but still takes time to phone Dong-shik to let him know what’s going on. Dong-shik decides it’s a distraction and dispatches Jeong-jae instead. He and Joo-won head to Jin-mook’s home to find him digging up his daughter’s body.

The other character I need to mention is Jeong-jae’s complicated mother with Mayoral aspirations, Congresswoman Do, who spends the episode trying to get a promotion for her damaged, disassociated son who has once again taken to drawing fawns that look like dead girls. This is a woman obsessed with her own status and superiority who has convinced herself that Dong-shik is an anchor weighing her precious son down.

“Everyone looks out for their own interests!” she cries in frustration, “so you should become a senior inspector too.”

Jeong-jae paints fawns in a lovely homey light-filled room while his mother begs him on his knees to stop and get a promotion instead

This theme runs throughout this episode like a hum; a constant subtle jockeying for social power whether through position, brute force, manipulation, or manufactured subservience. It culminates in a conversation between Dong-shik and Joo-won where the latter admits finally that he believes himself to be generally superior to others. Of all his motivations, his annoyance at being mocked and ignored by his inferiors in the Foreign Bureau simmers to the surface.

He’s still struggling with the death of illegal immigrant and prostitute, Lee Geum-hwa, however. And whether her death is something Joo-won needs to atone for or a stumbling block to his eventual promotion depends on your perspective. Her body remains in the morgue unclaimed and his father is busily working behind the scenes to ensure her death doesn’t come between Joo-won and commendation for breaking such a big case.

Speaking of our leads, they’re fully simpatico in this episode (especially after Dong-shik commits to handing himself in for the crime of moving Min-jung’s fingers once his sister has been found). One of the scenes involves them tag teaming the interrogation of the obsequious Jin-mook who insists on being interviewed by Dong-shik because he believes he can outsmart him. Jin-mook has reveled in his ability to fool the people around him, getting off on playing the helpless simpleton while murdering people. He suffers in many ways from the same disease – he has maintained a sense of superiority by believing always that he is the smartest man in the room. He’s manifestly not. Dong-shik and Joo-won easily and skillfully bait him into losing his temper during the interrogation.

After handling Jin-mook like men who have been partners for years, Dong-shik then follows Joo-won to Busan as he tried to track down the reasons for Jin-mook’s actions.

Dong-shik and Joo-woo being buddy cops in Busan

As they trawl through the bars and “massage parlours” of Busan’s seedy red light district, they construct a picture of a man determined to find and murder the first woman he believed made a mockery of him: the first to damage his fragile masculinity. His common law wife and Min-jung’s mother, who left the child with him 20 years previously and was never seen or heard of again. Of course I don’t want devote too much time to Jin-mook’s masculinity issues, which are as banal as they are toxic. The fact that Min-jung wasn’t his daughter is something that he’s probably always known but refused to admit. The role of noble single father suited his personal self-image, certainly more than cuckold “tricked” into “raising another man’s child” as some would have it. Mockery and murder, as Margaret Atwood once so aptly summed up.

But while Dong-shik and Joo-won manipulate Jin-mook into giving up the location of the bodies he refuses to admit to killing Dong-shik’s sister.

“I didn’t kill her but I sent her back to you,” he says mysteriously.

And any more details they might be able to get are gone forever when Jin-mook is murdered in his cell. The words scrawled in blood upon those walls.

Dong-shik, I did not kill Yu-yeon.

In view of the finish line, Dong-shik finds himself still at the starting post with no clear view on what direction to run in now.


9 thoughts on “Open Thread: Beyond Evil Episode 8

  1. Thanks for the recap.
    Hope no more pulling your teeth out moments come along your way ever again.
    Unless you’re going to watch Hell Is Other People

    1. For those confused by this comment, I did refer to writing this review as ‘like pulling teeth’. I don’t know why it was so hard to write. I will say that recapping a crime thriller without just doing a blow by blow description of what happened can be challenging when I have limited time to write these days.

      But, May, you forgot to tell people to watch The Guest!

      1. There’s no teeth pulling in The Guest , I should point out that “The Guest Is The Best” that’s why I didn’t tell you to watch The Guest .
        You should know that The Guest has eye poking and birds falling among other things , you definitely should watch The Guest though .

      2. Well, thank you for your efforts! These are the best recaps I’ve read in years, thanks to an excellent blend of explaining the bits I missed and offering very interesting insight and just generally being a very skilled writer who phrases things in the most impactful way.

  2. I forgot to say this , I was under the impression that Kang Jin-mook did what he did because of Mommy issues not just because of his wife

    1. Oh yes, May, this is a really good point. Jin-mook’s mother was also a prostitute and this definitely underpinned his fear and hatred of women.

  3. To quote Buffy’s musical episode:
    Where do we go from here?
    Where do we go from here?
    The battle’s done
    And we kind of won
    So we sound our victory cheer
    But where do we go from here?

    I sneak-peaked this recap, so I knew Jin-muk was going to die, but seeing the circumstances through which he died made it all the more devastating. The people of this town have wandered without closure for too long. Most of the bodies have been unearthed, and Jae-yi finally gets to put her unanswered questions and unfulfilled grief to bed, but what about Dong-shik? This was (seemingly) his last hope of finding Yu-yeon! Where do we go from here??

  4. The critique thar depicted violence is endorsed violence is a common one but it’s also shallow in its understanding of how violence often affects people in media. To be clear your argument doesn’t stem from exploitation- which is clear and visceral and anti-empathetic – but from conservative framings of media as dangerous.

    I think people who make critiques like this earnestly confuse their own discomfort with art as a condemnation of the artist’s morals versus digesting that discomfort as a valid and valuable feeling given intentionally. Your argument is one for censoring and coddling the population that already reads a headline about a murder and doesn’t give a shit.

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