Special Affairs Team TEN 2 - The Tape Murder Arch (Analysis)

Thank you, show, for making it a pleasure to think about you for a long time. The more KDrama I watch, the more I appreciate the gems. And this one definitely is that: a gem.

Warning: If you have not yet seen TEN2, don't read this post. It contains major *SPOILERS*! 

With Episode 2 of TEN2, the Green Duct Tape Murder-arch has come to a (temporary) end. 'Temporary' because we know that the real F is still out there - but 'end' because Yeo Ji-hoon's nemesis is behind bars, and Ji-hoon has decided to 'move on'. But also 'temporary' because this moving on will not be easy for our sheksi detective, that much is already clear from episodes 3 and 4. And 'temporary' because the real F could strike again any time ... (and probably will?).

Still, this temporary end invites some rumination - and ruminate I shall! 
Cause to ruminate I like!

What I value most about the TEN series is that the show does not waste a single character. All of them are multi-dimensional and have dark-spots or things in their lives that are difficult, to say the least. That makes all of them so very human; and that also makes it so much more natural to care for these characters and their well-being (in comparison to other KDramas).

That said, the most important, most complex, most screwed-up, and most intriguing character has always been our lead man: Yeo Ji-hoon. Throughout the series, we have been given many hints about his corrupted soul. We knew about his unhealthy obsession with the F-cases. We knew about the tragedy of being implicated in the murder of his fiancee. And we were tempted to think more than once that he has turned into the very thing he is hunting several times, too. It is of course a relief to know that has has not - but he is also far, far from clean. There is a lot of dirt (and blood) on his hands and he has used every single person around him to the max. Does he care about any of them at all?

We got a few glimpses of something human underneath the calculating and dehumanized exterior of his - most of them in flashbacks to a time when he still was human and able to love. I don't see much of that side of him in Episodes 1 and 2 of TEN2. At the beginning, when the team faces their double decapitation (boss in hiding and no longer the official TEN team), they begin to wonder why they have been made part of all this. The show exposes them to be mere puppets of Yeo Ji-hoon, who meticulously orchestrates all of them at his will, even from afar. He never cared about the TEN cases. No, the TEN cases are a means to an end; the end being to catch the person who killed his fiancee, whatever it takes.

So, why does he choose them? The show gives us a few pointers. Most obviously, they are all connected to that one F-case (and I guess the show implies that Ji-hoon knew that). And I think all three of them together are needed to make his plan work: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Apart from that, Do-shik is a deadly detective with an eerie talent to solve difficult cases (which gives him his nickname 'White Venomous Snake' or 'Viper'). He is also impulsive, even choleric: and it is possible that Ji-hoon is relying on that to set things in motion. Min-ho, as he says himself, knows all there is to know about Ji-hoon: especially his psychiatric history. He therefore knows (even in times of maximum doubt) that Ji-hoon did not kill his own fiancee. I am guessing, though, that this is not all that makes Min-ho part of the TEN-team - Min-ho also has that specific instinct a good detective needs (or it may be a cow's reversed luck - but that's better than nothing!); and it seems to me that Ji-hoon sees a little bit of himself in this kid. At least when he is not duct-taping him! Finally, Ye-ri has the ability to see immediately if someone is lying (a gift which brings her much, much grief); and she has enormous talent in "reading" people, even if they are dead.

But Ye-ri's gift is not the only reason she is part of the TEN-team - Ji-hoon also brutally uses her as bait (one of the chapter headings in episode 2). Quite unbelievable so, given the fact that this backfired once already (Season 1, last two episodes), when baiting F with the one girl that survived resulted in the death of his fiancee! He uses her as bait by showing himself with her outside quite a lot and simply waits until F lures her in. She knows this: I guess that tells us about the possibility of a romance in this show, right?! I, personally, would never EVER be able to forgive somebody for doing this to me. In addition, he does not even go to help her when she is duct-taped (and he cannot know that she can breath!), but he goes after Kyung-tae instead. So, frankly, I am very surprised she stays with him as part of the team at all. Unless ... she is drawn to him in a twisted and masochistic way. We know that she had (and has?) great difficulties in life. She also seems to understand him - in her empathetic, caring way. It is possible that she has feelings for him, even though they couldn't be called romantic, really. The scene with Seo Yoo-rim, when she confronts her about sleeping with Yeo Ji-hoon and warns her about him and his dark self, is indeed a bit more emotional than what we are used from her at this point. I am curious to see how the show develops their relationship further (if it does at all - I'm a sucker for romance, but I'm not expecting any in this show!).

Yeo Ji-hoon, the puppeteer, gambles really high. And by jeopardizing the lives around him repeatedly, he appears rotten to the core, a Devil indeed (another chapter heading). But he does not take the final step, which would have taken him beyond redemption. The scenes on the bridge at the end of Episode 2 are the key to understanding why there is hope yet for this character and his sins. Kyung-tae, the fake F, leads him to a dead end. There is no going back from that point. And there is something eerily beautiful to this scene: the yellow tape that signals the end of the road and the setting sun, the oncoming twilight.
Ji-hoon stands there, gun in hand. THE gun: Given to him by the father of his bride as a tool for revenge. And of course he must kill this killer, must he not? But we already know that he has doubts. And indeed, he pauses. And listens. It is not because he knows what Kyung-tae told Ye-ri (to tell him to forget). It is his own conscience acting up. In the car, during this awesome car chase that does not feel like a chase, but more like a tag-along, he admits to himself that he never thought beyond this very moment of finally looking the killer in the face. He may be one of the most calculating, smart, and ultimately cold people ever, but the thought for revenge has clouded his judgment.

Kyung-tae taunts him and teases him, willing him to kill. And at the same time, Kyung-tae tempts him to kill himself. Not necessarily for real (even though he mocks him with the finger gun to the temple), but he tells him that killing him (Kyung-tae) would mean killing himself (Ji-hoon). Nothing would be left of someone who only lived for revenge one this revenge is fulfilled. Here, the show obviously plays with the notion of alter-ego. Kill me and you kill yourself is the message. Are we not the same, Kyung-tae asks. Look at us! Both desperate, crazy people, ready to do anything for what they consider justice, turned into monsters - devils - by grief.
But in the end, they are not the same. Kyung-tae is what Ji-hoon almost became. A person so desperate they would do anything - even murder a woman in the most brutal fashion 'simply' to have the police investigate the murder case of his sister again. But Ji-hoon does not take that one final step. By refusing to kill him, Ji-hoon break the vicious circle he has been in. And he may be able to heal. In time.

But first, I think he should really work on this people skills.

So, finally: Is everything about this show logical? Oh no, of course it is not. I have quite a few open questions / uncertainties I'm puzzled about (and a few loose ends):

a) When exactly did Ji-hoon switch from the one that chases to the one that is chased? Kim Min-hee's suicide provided a great opportunity for a plan that could only work after throwing baits to (not-)F for quite a while (like being seen with Ye-ri). How did this work exactly? Ji-hoon staged Min-hee's death like an F-case (in order to draw not-F out? And did he know that there are two Fs?). He then made sure he was identified as the killer (to make not-F think he was the killer? Or for his team to set all things in motion and investigate?). He needed Ye-ri in the path of the killer, assuming (not-)F would go after his current girl. Kyung-tae on the other hand must have assumed Ji-hoon would come after his girl for him to actually take her to the warehouse. Why did Kyung-tae bolt, though? I'm guessing because Do-shik and Min-ho arrived? 

b) Where was the real "F" when Ji-hoon tried to lure him to the hotel and Kyung-tae killed Hee-joo? Also at that hotel? Or did he not make a move at all? Him being a policeman is still the only lead we have ... but is it possible Ji-hoon knows more about him (assuming he has found out that there are two Fs) but simply does not care (since he only ever was interested in his fiancee's murderer)?
Good night, chingus! Stay tuned for the recap of episode 3!