Cold case squad team leader, Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo) updates her superiors and the police superintendent on the current case, identifying the 8 victims, and adding that the last has yet to be identified. The superintendent is perturbed to hear that they’re looking for a serial killer, but when she adds that there are two other victims, from a cold case in 1997, he becomes irate, worried about how the police will look. Section chief, Kim Bum Joo (Jang Hyun Sung) suggests that they deflect criticism by dumping the case on the cold case squad.
The superintendent gives orders for chief, Ahn Chi Soo (Jung Hae Kyun) to give the cold case squad his full support and the meeting ends. Chi Soo confronts Bum Joo in the hallway outside, suspicious that Bum Joo just wants the cold case squad to fail. Bum Joo wonders why Chi Soo cares, but more importantly, he wonders why Chi Soo didn’t report what Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) was up to. Bum Joo issues his final threat and leaves.
Back at the office, Hae Young asks Soo Hyun to tell the team what happened the night she was abducted, and why they didn’t catch the killer. Soo Hyun thinks back to 1997, when right after her rescue, detective Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong), with every other policeman in station watching, asked her what she observed when she was abducted. She remembers the sound of falling water, and that the killer had a young man’s voice, with thin hands. When he left her alone, Soo Hyun felt the cold air from the door, and felt her way towards it. She pauses here, unable to continue, but Jae Han compels her to go on.
Soo Hyun describes opening a closet, and finding a cold hand poking out of it. Terrified, she stumbled to the floor, but got up again, then broke down the door in an effort to get outside. Soo Hyun ran after that, until she hit something and passed out.
Jae Han is unrelenting as he asks her which way she ran, then how long she ran for. Soo Hyun answers that she ran straight for ten minutes, but she doesn’t sound sure. The only other thing she remembers is the smell of a sewer when she got out of the house. Jae Han presses her to remember if she heard the sound of running water, and she confirms it. Given the details they already have, Jae Han’s partner cuts off the interview and sends Soo Hyun to the hospital. As she leaves, Jae Han’s partner asks if he had to put her through that, but Jae Han is already on his way to the armory, so he can kill the guy.
As the detectives start their search, the murderer (Lee Sang Yeob) gets together boxes, bags and tape (presumably because he has a body to dispose of). The police miss the murderer by mere blocks, and he nonchalantly walks past their vans as they move on to another area.
Back in the present, Soo Hyun recounts how, when they didn’t find the guy, Bum Joo closed the case. When Hae Young protests the unfairness of the decision, the other team members, Kim Gye Chul (Kim Won Hae) and Jung Hun Ki (Lee Yoo Joon) point out that no one likes serial killer cases because they’re horrific and difficult to solve.
When it’s time to update the rest of the precinct on the case, Soo Hyun presents their sole concrete lead: that the killer either lived or worked in Hongwon-dong. She cedes the podium to Hae Young to present the profile, and he overcomes the fact that most of the cops in the room dislike him by politely asking them to listen. He theorizes that the murderer is detailed, compulsively neat, and lives in a house without a yard. Hae Young adds that the victims only had one thing in common, which is that they were either depressed or appeared to be so, making it likely that the murderer is also suffering from depression. As Hae Young describes him, we see the convenience store clerk, matching this description, point by point.
Hae Young adds that the murderer would have been somewhere he could have observed his victims over time. Hae Young suggests a psychiatric clinic, or a shop that the victims would have had in common. As Hae Young wraps up, Chi Soo assigns the various tasks to the three teams, and ends the meeting. But, before everyone can leave, Soo Hyun reminds everyone that one witness survived their encounter with the murderer: herself.
As they leave the meeting, Hae Young cautions Soo Hyun against undergoing hypnosis, pointing out that it will have consequences for her. Soo Hyun, however, feels guilty that she wasn’t able to catch the murderer before more victims died, and is determined to go ahead.
Under hypnosis, Soo Hyun recalls coming out of the murderer’s house, then falling on to a manhole cover. She ran forward, then bumped into something by the side of the road, then fell over again. But when she tries to recall what happened when she started running again, Soo Hyun panics as if she’s being choked, and the hypnotist ends the session.
Afterwards, a distraught Soo Hyun wants to try again, but Hae Young doesn’t believe that anything more will come out of it. Chi Soo agrees, and tells them to focus on the unidentified victim instead.
That night, the radio starts working, and Hae Young talks to Jae Han. Jae Han is upset to learn that the case remains unsolved, since Soo Hyun was hurt while chasing the guy. When Hae Young points out that Soo Hyun is the team leader of the cold case squad, Jae Han is surprised, but pleased. Hae Young asks how Soo Hyun is doing in 1997, since she was abducted by a murderer. Jae Han is sure that she’ll get over her trauma, because she’s very determined, and Hae Young urges Jae Han to give Soo Hyun some encouragement, since it would mean a lot coming from him.
Hae Young asks Jae Han if he wants to know what happens to him, but Jae Han isn’t interested. When Hae Young tries to tell him anyway, the radio clicks off.
The next day, the other teams have little to report to Chi Soo for their efforts, establishing only that the victims had no friends, and didn’t frequent any place in common. Gye Chul reports that thanks to her clothes, they were able to establish that the unidentified victim died after 2014. The medical examiner adds that the victim could not be identified through surgery, but that she had been exposed to mercury over time. In addition, this last victim was tied up and killed from behind, and wrapped up in a blanket, indicating that the murderer felt some emotional connection to her.
We flash back to the convenience store, where a woman, presumably our victim, eats ramyun from a packet, under the watchful eye of the clerk (the murderer). That evening, the clerk watches from outside a bar where the woman is drinking with some colleagues. She’s the only one not having a good time. Later, he follows her as she walks home, and when she drops a bag of mandarins, they come face to face as she picks them up. The clerk is shocked as she awkwardly puts one in his hand, then runs away, and he drops the mandarin then runs home.
Back at his house, the clerk breaks down as flashes back to horrific scenes from his childhood, as his mother tortured him by shoving him into a duffel bag, then shoving his puppy into a plastic bag.
In the present, the cold case squad has come to Hongwon-dong to track down the unidentified victim. The team splits into two, as they resolve to go to all the real estate offices and find a renter that suddenly disappeared.
Back in the recent past, the woman comes to the convenience store again, but the clerk avoids her. When she slips on the ice outside, though, he helps her find the book she dropped. Later, it’s pouring rain out as he leaves the convenience store, and the woman is there to offer him an umbrella. He doesn’t say anything in response, and as he walks away, she follows, holding the umbrella over his head as he goes. They walk this way all the way to his house, but when she makes to leave, he calls out her name, Yoo Seung Yeon.
In the present, Hae Young protests as Soo Hyun suggests splitting up again, pointing out that the hypnosis will have brought up traumatic memories. Soo Hyun overrides his protests and leaves.
Back in 1997, Jae Han and his team of detectives is getting nowhere. When Jae Han suggests trying again, his partner points out that Soo Hyun’s memories probably weren’t that reliable. Jae Han finally asks how Soo Hyun is, and his partner tells him that Soo Hyun hasn’t been in the office in three days.
Jae Han goes to see Soo Hyun, who is looking the worse for wear. She tells him that she’s too scared to be a cop, terrified of everything from plastic bags to criminals. In response, Jae Han gives her a box of persimmons that was sent to her a gift from one of the victims of the mugger she caught. He tells her that everyone is scared of criminals, that he himself ran away from a criminal with an ax once, and ended up with a metal plate in his shoulder. But someone has to catch them, and anyway, she may even end up a team leader one day.
Back in the present, Soo Hyun recognizes an alley that she walked down the night she was abducted. When the memories threaten to overwhelm her, she thinks back to Jae Han’s words, that someone has to catch them.
Meanwhile, Hae Young strikes out at another real estate office, but notices a blank spot on the map of the neighbourhood on the wall, which turns out to be an area with only factories. After asking Hun Ki, Hae Young learns that only one factory in the area deals with mercury: a light bulb factory that was recently accused of illegally dumping mercury.
The owner of the factory isn’t too cooperative, but one of his employees remembers a woman that disappeared in the middle of the mercury brouhaha. She lived in the company dorm, so the employee packed up her belongings, including her diary. Meanwhile, Hae Young asks Hun Ki to compare the victim’s DNA with the DNA of the only living relative of Yoo Seung Yeon, the woman from the light bulb factory.
Hae Young goes through Seung Yeon’s diary, and discovers that she knew that the clerk was following her, but that she had a crush on him. At the back of the diary, Seung Yeon kept a list of everything she bought on a daily basis, and Hae Young suddenly clues in that she must be going to a convenience store.
Hae Young calls Soo Hyun, and tells her to check out convenience stores in the area, since all of the victims were introverts, and a convenience store is an easy place to be anonymous. Soo Hyun hangs up, but when she turns around, the sight of the street lights on the left triggers a memory for her. Soo Hyun finds herself back on the street where she was found by Jae Han, and her memories from that night replay. She remembers that the detectives believed she’d started at the stream and run straight ahead, but as she walks, she comes to the pole she bumped into. Looking at it, she realizes that when she fell down, she lost her sense of direction and ran back the way she came, with the streetlights on the opposite side. In her newly regained memory, Soo Hyun runs straight into the murderer, who starts strangling her. In her memory, the murderer stops when he hears Jae Han calling Soo Hyun’s name.
Hae Young, meanwhile, goes from convenience store to convenience store, until he enters one that’s compulsively orderly, with nothing out of place. As Hae Young looks at the neat rows of merchandise, he gets a call from Hun Ki, confirming that DNA confirms that Yoo Seung Yeon is the last victim. When the teenage worker comes out from the back, Hae Young grabs him and slams him against the wall. He asks who organized the store, and the terrified worker tells him that it was the convenience store clerk, who just finished his shift.
Retracing her steps from that night, Soo Hyun sees the manhole cover she stumbled over, and remembers the smell. She looks up to see the door she stumbled out of that night, and swallowing down panic, she knocks on it. When no one answers, Soo Hyun opens the door.
I think it should be a rule in life that if you know you’re walking into the house of a serial killer, call for backup first. But, no one ever listens to me in movies or tv, no matter how much I yell at the screen, so let’s just go along with it, and pretend that Soo Hyun isn’t doing something that’s going to have me biting my nails until Friday, when the next episode airs.
So, my recap may have been a little confusing, so let me make it clear, in case you didn’t get it from watching the show: the convenience store clerk and the murderer are the same person. Also, if you’re not watching the show, why aren’t you? It’s really good.
This episode was the one where the rookie Soo Hyun and the Soo Hyun of the present really gelled together for me, thanks in no small part to the role that Jae Han (and Hae Young, by proxy) had in her life. Up to this point, even with the time gap, I had trouble reconciling the cheerful, but determined rookie of the past and the grim, mistrustful Soo Hyun of the present. Given that we’ve hit a trauma that seems to have been a huge factor in her life, it’s not surprising that we now get to see how both sides of the equation come together.
On another note, even though meddling with the past seems to have terrible consequences, I can’t see how Hae Young can resist the idea of telling Jae Han who the murderer is, so that he can go catch him in the past. Saving nine women, and years of trauma for Soo Hyun would be a bigger draw than any possible consequences. And, if not Soo Hyun, then at least think of the puppies!