The Good Detective (2020) Episode 15 *Spoilers*
I suppose this episode was meant to be Yoo Jeong-seok's last bid for atonement for his many sins especially those in relation to Lee Dae-chul. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about that. I've always understood him to be a gray character, not an outright villain but I'm wondering if the show hasn't cut him too much slack considering what he's been responsible for. I don't know if I like the idea that he gets to choose the terms of his own exit but perhaps this is the show's way of proving that he wasn't beyond redemption. He acknowledged his role in Lee Dae-chul's death and paid his respects to the dead man. Even if his attack of Jo Seung-gi due to a burst of rage at the man's unrepentant spirit was understandable I wrestle with the fact that he killed two others to cover-up his misdeeds. It rankles that he used his knowledge from his time working the police beat to get away with murder for a time. Even if he wasn't a "bad" man as Jin Seo-gyeong asserts, he did some terrible things. So then what constitutes a bad man? Then there's the fact that he went to confront Jo Seung-gi, the man who raped his sister and drove her to her death, on his own. It was hubris on his part thinking that he could deal with the situation rationally considering his personal stake in the matter. That's what the police is for, whatever their faults may be.
However, I don't doubt that this is what the show wants us to grapple with. It is hard to do the right thing. It is much harder to do the right thing than we think. Telling lies, prevaricating, cover up... sadly... seems to be the default position. It is so easy to rationalize one's position once the conscience is suppressed. Monsters aren't made in a day. Little things snowball and before one realises everything is out of control. While I can't in all honesty feel a great deal of sympathy for Yoo Jeong-seok because he deprived two children of their fathers, I am well aware that I'm asked to understand the circumstances that motivated the original crime. I also believe that his final strategy was also about protecting the newspaper and the integrity of the staff, especially Jin Seo-gyeong who had been digging into the story and was somewhat resentful at being used as political football.
There is little doubt that the truth is much more complex than first meets the eye. It's tempting to have a kindergarten view of people although clearly evil does exist. However, when one is morally compromised it gives oxygen to those who abuse their power. It isn't hard to see how that leads to the flouting of laws that are meant to be in the service of the greater good. The problem with corrupt practices even if it seems harmless at a time is that it never stops there. A few bucks here and the turning of a blind eye there always leads to a dare to go further. What's more, if found out it leaves one vulnerable to unscrupulous leveraging and manipulation.
Adherence to ideals of justice is also very complex. As Yoo Jeong-seok demonstrates, justice for most is deeply personal rather than universal. The truth of the matter is that not all lives matter... to us. Yoo Jeong-seok, a celebrated journalist certainly didn't because he did his part in concealing the truth behind Lee Dae-chul's case. Without truth, without facts... there can be no justice for all. That's why bringing in the Fourth Estate for this drama is fitting. We expect journalists to adjudicate our relationship with government on some level but it's clear from history and even now that journalists can easily become useful idiots or propagandists if all they do is repeat talking points without challenging prevailing political narratives.
As we can see from Jin Seo-gyeong's dilemma, the truth is not necessarily her priority despite her journalistic claims. Her conscience perhaps and her regard for Yoo Jeong-seok as mentor and role model can override any regard for the truth. Emotions... whether it be fear or pride... can easily overwhelm our commitment to truth and justice. That's part of the human condition. That was also exemplified by Yoo Jeong-seok's outrage against Jo Seung-gi which led to irreversible violence and then to even more acts of violence. Note too that a colleague at the newspaper blames Jin Seo-gyeong for causing trouble. She blames herself for uncovering the truth. Despite the fact that Yoo Jeong-seok was responsible in some fashion for the deaths of 3 men, most people especially those around him would rather have not known the truth. The truth is too ugly... too unbelievable and earth shattering. It's too hard to handle. But the truth that underlies all others in this show is that anyone is capable of murder... given the right circumstances and opportunities.
I remember a tutorial that I attended as an undergraduate student. We were discussing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the time. My lecturer at the time pointed out that there was no real description of Hyde's features. All we had were reactions from people who met him. Our lecturer threw out the question: Why was that? In an unusual flash of insight, the eighteen-year-old me said that it was because evil has no face. I think that applies here too. Evil lurks about and it is a horrifying thought that someone we know or think we know well can be capable of such horrors. We don't have to look very far to see the truth of this. The evening news attests to that.