Through the Darkness (2022) A Review
There’s a rooftop moment in one of the later episodes between Song Ha-young (Kim Nam-gil), the country’s first criminal profiler and his only female colleague Yoon Tae-gu (Kim So-jin) where they exchange a well-known reference from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous screed Beyond Good and Evil.
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
This quote perfectly encapsulates Song Ha-young’s continual struggle as a pioneering criminal investigator in South Korea and the overall thematic concerns of this tightly written, wonderfully told police procedural of two men’s seminal efforts to incorporate behavioural analysis into the nation’s policing practices. One, a man of science, had the vision and the other had the knack for penetrating into the criminal soul. Both are polar opposites but bring complementary skill sets to the table. Ha-young, dogged and circumspect, is a natural detective seeing connections where others fail to whereas Kook Young-soo (Jin Seon-kyu) a former forensics chief is the extrovert and bulldog of the team. From the start It’s an uphill battle for the duo to claim legitimacy for the fledgeling Behavioural Analysis Team. However, they gradually gain the grudging respect of sceptical colleagues when the application of these radical new ways of thinking about a certain class of criminal element yields results.
Criminal profiling, as the drama notes, was always an important addition to an existing but growing toolbox that was still not adequately equipped to deal with an emerging type of criminality. It was never meant to replace more traditional or conventional forms of investigation techniques like canvassing, evidence-gathering, surveillance cameras, forensic science and interviews but to be their companion particularly in instances where the motive of perpetrators are not always immediately obvious. It also helped set the agenda for a shift (for the better) in workplace culture within the police organization. In fact, as someone who has watched many SK cop shows in the past decade, I would venture to say that this drama features some of the most professional and realistic work-based interactions I've been privy to, particularly as the show charts improvements in policing over time.
While the drama can be located under the broader category of crime, it isn’t the thrill of the chase of the unknown that keeps one on the edge of one’s seat. Every featured perpetrator is known to the audience early on and each story is staged in similar fashion to a Columbo episode where persistent detectives pry information out of their initially taciturn suspects with enough information to convict them. An analysis and application of behavioural psychology is often the key to loosening tongues during interrogations. This is where Ha-young’s newly acquired expertise really come into its own. It is demonstrated here that his new interrogation techniques work and puts the final nail into the coffin of draconian (and brutal) police interrogation methods of another era.
While the show claims to be based on a book written by Kwon Il-young, South Korea's first criminal profiler, I was often reminded of its US counterpart, the Netflix series Mindhunter. Even though I liked the Mindhunter premise and its fascinating look into the pioneering work of the FBI in criminal profiling, I didn't enjoy its digressions into the bedroom antics of the main male lead. In the case of Through the Darkness, everything it did sat right with me, including the small glimpses into the personal lives of the people who were key to the messaging of the drama.
For anyone with a functioning conscience, staring at the abyss will undoubtedly take its emotional toll. As someone in the show notes, "This is not a job for the weak-minded". Even the redoubtable Ha-young, the crusading cop, succumbs to burn out. At this point he is reminded as is the audience is that this isn’t just about him doing his job well but much more importantly, it is his duty to provide answers to the victims and those who grieve for them. On one occasion, after a gruelling interview with one of the show's featured killers, Ha-young turns to Kook Young-soo and poses a heartfelt question, "Why did it have to me?" It is a question that has resonances with Frodo’s question to Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring.
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Young-soo thinks the question is for him as the team leader but for the heartbroken Ha-young, raised Catholic by his devout mother, it’s a deeper existential question with spiritual ramifications about the nature of good and evil. Ha-young was born for this role and called to it but it was never going to be easy to stare into the abyss without help from friends.
As far as the acting stakes are concerned, there’s not a lot to fault especially because here familiar veterans make it all look so natural and fit for purpose. Kim Nam-gil who takes on the titular role should of course should be singled out for his understated performance as the quiet and thoughtful Song Ha-young, the man appointed to the task of leading the way for his colleagues. The subtle changes to his manner and facial expressions as he demonstrates his discomfiture and agony during an interrogation for instance, highlights his wide-ranging experience in tackling a challenging role such as this one.
The drama is also exemplary in the way that it respects its audience. It assumes rightly that its target demographic is one capable of understanding moments in the narrative without being bludgeoned over the head with exposition overload. The result is that the telling is much more effective because the focus is almost entirely on the showing. Those who enjoy a good police procedural will take all of this onboard and appreciate the pacing that results from the effective use of montage scenes.
It may well be a premature call at this point but there’s little doubt in my mind that this well-made police procedural is poised to be one of the year’s best. It might also be this year's Beyond Evil. It not only checks all the boxes but more importantly, it leaves one with a feeling of wanting more.
Reposted here from Janghaven Forums.