Discover more from The Urban Lily Talks Tropes
Chimera (2021) Early Review
This latest crime offering from OCN which draws inspiration from Greek mythology stars Park Hae-soo (last seen in Squid Game), Claudia Kim, Lee Hee-joon (last seen by me in the quirky Yuna’s Street) and Cha Joo-young. The plot centres around a serial murderer-arsonist infamously known as “Chimera” who at every crime scene leaves behind a signature titanium lighter featuring an engraving of the famed hybrid beast of a lion with a goat’s head and a tail that ends with a snake’s head. In Greek mythology from which it sprung, Chimera was a fire-breathing offspring related to the likes of Cerberus and the Lernean Hydra.
The story of this particular chimera begins 35 years earlier. A killing spree involving whizz bang explosions among university researchers results in a young father accused of being a communist activist, fingered for the deed. Soon he falls victim to yellow journalism. Not long after his arrest, he is declared dead, allegedly from a suicide attempt. This ensures that the case enjoys quick and convenient closure with little need to look elsewhere. Everyone assumes then that the culprit was found, saved taxpayers a goodly sum and the 1984 Macheon serial murders were put to rest forever. So they thought. Decades later, murders conducted with the same modus operandi begin again. No one is any the wiser as to the perpetrator’s identity. One thing’s certain: Chimera is a skilled chemist who creates elaborate explosives that targets individuals with care and precision, minimizing collateral damage. All of this piques the interest of FBI explosives specialist and profiler Eugene Hathaway (Claudia Kim) who partners up with Detective Cha Jae-hwan (Park Hae-soo) to follow the trail of the mysterious arsonist.
It becomes increasingly clear that things were made more complicated and confusing 35 years earlier by the interference of a cop who went too far, an ambitious prosecutor and the heir to a chemical plant, constituting an unholy trio of vested interests. It’s the old, old story of corruption and collusion that is staple in these dramas.
There’s little doubt that Chimera is an artist after a fashion. But what is the agenda? Is it revenge? Or a cover-up? Or a cry for justice? Eight episodes later, I’m still hazy on motive although leaning towards revenge.
It does take a while for things to get going as the show is determined to keep things mysterious for as long as possible. Much of the storytelling is seen through the eyes of Cha Jae-hwan a dogged detective with no particular skill set or remarkable intelligence but is not too egotistical to ask for help and accept tips to expedite his hunt for the elusive killer. He has an axe to grind as his mentor and father figure falls prey to the machinations of the arsonist in perverse fashion.
Like many K dramas of late, the plight of adoptees are well-represented here — young kids who were/are farmed out by adoption agencies for cash to people overseas. This is exemplified by the presence of Dr Lee Joong-yeop, a neurosurgeon from the UK returning to his birth country who has more than a passing interest in the 1984 Macheon murders. Agent Hathaway is another overseas adoption who didn’t have any interest in returning to SK except for a painful incident that occurred in the line of duty with the FBI. She’s sent packing and now becomes the resident expert for the special investigation task force and anybody else curious about the case.
Representing the fourth estate is nosy and ambitious journalist Kim Hyo-kyung who is eager to have a piece of the action except that she’s finding that this story has all kinds of political angles that could keep her from doing her job to her own satisfaction. There’s a constant parade of characters but the show seldom feels crowded.
So what does this self-professed crime buff think?
It’s not bad… and not as complicated as we’re initially led to believe, as is the case with the vast majority crime shows. It’s like your typical Agatha Christie whodunit where everybody has things in their past they would rather no one else knows about. It’s all a matter of getting the pieces of the puzzle and trying to see where they fit into the bigger picture. Patience is always a virtue in these sorts of shows because let’s face it, it is to the writer and director’s benefit to prolong the mystery for as long as possible while drip-feeding information and throwing in red-herrings under the guise of characters having serious trust issues.
The performances are good especially Park Hae-soo and Lee Hee-joon. What I also like about the show which is often missing from others of this type is how the female leads are written. OCN shows in general have been doing better in that regard lately and maybe some of the crime offerings from the C dramaland could take notes. Many of the problems lie in the insistence that romance has to have a dominant role in the narrative and the force feeding of rom com tropes where none are actually needed. It’s not as if I object to romance in crime shows on principle but the woeful screen productions coming out of the mainland this past year is testament that just because someone has a great idea for a murder mystery, it doesn’t mean they can write a proper romance for it or without undue reference to the playbook. More than one detective series in past few months has left a bitter taste in my mouth due to the need for romance. Thankfully here, the main female leads have well-defined roles and contribute to the story in no small measure.
Now that the show has reached the halfway point, the lay of the land is much clearer. While it’s the usual mix of politics, miscarriage of justice and police procedural, the premise is a rather fascinating one and the weekly chemistry lessons does take me back to middle school a very very long time ago.