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Tell Me What You Saw (2020) Final Mutterings
Whatever the flaws of this drama might have been these past eight weeks, I went in expecting a police procedural and I got one with plenty of excitement to spare. These last two episodes like the previous few had me at the edge of my seat, wondering who would be left standing after all the carnage. I also liked how the show dealt with the death of a vital team member. It wasn't the gratuitously violent nature of his murder they focused (there was already plenty of that in earlier episodes) on but on grief, loss and regret. Moreover it was a crucial wakeup call for Team Leader HYY, the one she needed to stir her out of her fear-driven stupor that inhibited her ability to act.
If there's anything that I would take away from this it's the tension between the fragility of the human mind and the power of the human will. This is a timely lesson considering the panic and hysteria that has come about due to the spectre of COVID-19 all around the world. There can be general agreement that there's a place to be sensible and take precautions but to act in fear as we've witnessed in some of our supermarkets exacerbates the problem or even creates new ones. What we've certainly noticed in recent days is that it doesn't take a whole lot to spark the ugliness that lies deep in the heart of individuals.
Often we think of evil in the abstract. Or foreign to our nature. Sometimes we believe it is something that is only relevant to murderers. Until something that is beyond our control descends on us, we react and then we realise that it is very much closer to home. Fear can do that. Pride can do that too.
A person like KYH may be perceived as an anomaly... a freak of nature... even a monster. Yet we hold him morally responsible for his crimes. Why? Because at least on a pragmatic level, if we don't, lawlessness ensues. People die. People live in fear. The vulnerable are defenceless. It becomes a case of might is right. It's hardly surprising of course that he wants moral justification. If he's born like this... if this is the inclination of his heart then no one can blame him for what results. That's what his "big party" for OHJ was for: "You made me like this. You put the idea in my head. You are responsible for me. You made me."
So he's Frankenstein's creature wagging an accusatory finger at his creator for the mess that's come about.
Someone like KYH is a also a test for the rest. How do you solve a problem like KYH? For his parents it was a case of abandonment and making it someone else's problem. Could he have been saved... his appetites curbed? Hard to say but it didn't seem like anyone even tried at all. He somehow managed to slip through the cracks of the system... being orphaned and then somehow finding his way into the police force which ironically became his cover and worst still, his refuge. The irony is not lost that the powers that be which run the organization, otherwise known as the police force, become a major obstacle to his capture. The very people who should have found and captured him, are as much the problem as the perpetrator himself. I don't know if the show is saying that Chief Choi or Chief Park are as bad as KYH but they are certainly morally culpable for aiding and abetting his evil deeds. Their evil is different but it has the effect of feeding other evils... whether it be KYH, whether it be HHY's need to coverup or their own coverup.
It certainly is a good metaphor for how corruption works. It doesn't start big or with blinking lights... "You are falling into corruption" It can even start with the best of intentions. Then the self-justification takes over. Before one knows it, their perception of reality is altered to fit the narrative that supports the agenda.
So what is Cha So Young's role in all of this? Why was OHJ glad that she decided to be a cop? Why did HHY tell her that she will be a good cop? SY, Ji Min and to some extent Tae-sung are the next generation... new blood that the organization needs an infusion of. More than that she brings a new way of seeing the job of the police. The organization is not supposed to a breeding ground for bureaucrats or to maintain the existing power structure. Or to play personal vendettas. It is there to help people... and save lives. That sounds banal and obvious but that's lost when fear and ego reigns. The police needs to return to its fundamentals and root out those who use it for their own purposes. Every so often, a bit of house cleaning is warranted.
There can't be much doubt that people see what they want to believe. It certainly explains why a dozen people can watch the same drama and come away with entirely different views. ;)
That's been a recurring theme of the drama. It's a thought worth exploring. It isn't that there is no reality or facts. I don't think that is what's being advocated here. What OHJ is saying is that we have lenses or grids by which we perceive the reality in front of us. Neuroscientists or cognitive psychologists may call it schema or stories.
For instance, I said a couple of weeks ago that there was something about KYH that rang false ... not just because the show is purpose about including him in the storyline but also that there was something artificial about the way he presented himself. He depicted himself as a simple country cop with few ambitions doing the barest minimum. SY in her simplicity believed that what she saw was what it was. Sunbae portrayed himself as a bit of a buffoon and a low achiever and she bought into that subterfuge. In her defence, that is part of her journey... to try and find that balance between trusting people and looking with investigative savvy eyes. There will always be those who deceive. There's no getting around that but one develops the necessary wisdom to navigate that in time. But trust between colleagues is a key element in getting the work done.
For OHJ, this final encounter was a test of his will not to become a murderer although he was clearly crossing the line trying to replicate The Guy's MO as advanced torture techniques. He managed to overcome... as some might say... his baser instincts and not completely lose himself in vengeance for a loved one. For him, SY was like a candlelight in a very dark place, restoring in him some small measure of faith in humanity.
The drama also draws on two millennia of Christian preoccupations regarding the origins of evil. A character like KYH symbolizes the idea of original sin. He is the quintessence of evil in some sense, with no conscience and has no qualms corrupting others. Yet each is responsible for their actions... to whatever degree of evil that their will inclines them. To what extent is the human will free... that has been debated by theologians. All may agree that humans have a will but they might not be as free as they believe. There are internal and external forces at play that lead them to certain choices. That is to say that the will can be shaped and restrained because human beings are created in the image of God. Even after the Fall, for most there is a functioning conscience or a vague sense of what's right and wrong.
Here OHJ represents man after the Fall. He lives with guilt and shame and seeks redemption for allowing someone he loved to die. He finds it in the innocent, untainted SY who hasn't been corrupted by office politics or the evil that has infested individuals that have crossed swords with the devil incarnate.