With one of the most fascinating opening scenes I have ever watched, Mouse starring Lee Seung Gi has me hooked. Murder mysteries are favorite genre of mine, and as a subset, hunt-for-serial-killer stories are too. These kinds of stories have a lot to offer, from smart detectives, to puzzle box plots, to universal themes surrounding life and death, sin and redemption. The downside is that these stories often glorify murders and serial killers, making them appear much more important than they really are. But, it’s like a magic trick, the trick seems awesome until it’s explained, and then often it seems quite dumb. So it can be with the detective figuring out the criminal, once he or she has figured them out, the prowess of the killer automatically shrinks. So it’s a downside that often has an upside in the end.
Like other Kdramas such as Hello Monster and Flower of Evil, Mouse presents a South Korea awash in serial killers and psychopaths. We get what is often a staple in this genre, an intellectual or professor who studies serial killers. In this tale it is Dr. Daniel Lee (Jo Jae Yun), a doctor and researcher who comes back to Korea from overseas. We soon find he’s really not that smart, as it’s revealed his longtime friend is a serial killer who actually killed his sister and pretended it was robbers. Unsurprisingly, the good doctor only makes it a few episodes. The most important thing about Dr. Lee is that he has isolated a psychopath gene and can predict if one’s baby in the womb has it. However, despite its 99% accuracy, the remaining one percent is a big factor, the kid could actually just be a genius. We are shown a couple of mothers who are debating aborting their children due to getting this test done, and of course they decide to let the kids live, because that’s what any good mother should do.
As with Hello Monster and Flower of Evil, Mouse plays heavily with the concept of psychopathy versus genius and the extent to which a true psychopath who is also a murderer can be redeemed in some way. The main killer in the show appears deeply troubled by his sin that he apparently has no control over. He has to go out and kill people and blames God, the Christian God, for this. His problem with God is very emotional, which is interesting on the face of it, and doesn’t seem to fit with an emotionless psychopath. The opening scene with the mouse and the snake is frightening and awesome, and we are led to believe that this little kid who puts the mouse into the snake’s cage is the killer the detectives will be hunting for.
The writing in this drama will either turn out to be amazing or a let down. It all depends how events and characters play themselves out. These beginning episodes are a knot of stories, characters and plots that will be unwound over time. Misdirection is used heavily. Our main hero is Detective Go Mu Chi (Lee Hee Jun), who is immediately likable and also infuriating. He’s his own best friend and enemy. We are introduced to the detective as a child, where his family comes up against the murderous father of our current serial killer and gets slaughtered and/or permanently maimed. As each family member protects the youngest, Mu Chi is the one who survives physically unscathed, but certainly not otherwise. He is the typical detective, bad past and and suffering from alcoholism, brash and brilliant, and not one to follow the rules. He’s the kind of person who goes around promising the victims’ families that he will someday kill the murderer with his own two hands, because official justice is too slow, if it comes at all.
These first few episodes the audience has been mainly figuring out what’s going and trying to figure out what will happen next, and especially how the star, Lee Seung Gi will fit in into all of this. Lee’s character is Jung Ba Reum, and he’s a neighborhood beat policemen with a heart of gold, but a person who also seems a bit slow on the uptake, certainly not as smart as Detective Go. That’s what we’re led to believe, anyway. We are presented with two babies who have the psychopath gene who are now grown up men in their twenties. It is implied that one of them is the serial killer and true psychopath, and one of them is the one percent, the genius. Dr. Sung Yo Han (Kwon Hwa Woon) is the son of the original serial killer from 25 years ago and he fits the psychopath bill almost entirely, showing little to no emotion. We are actually shown him killing people, but again, it’s a bit muddled with misdirection. The other child surely must be Jung Ba Reum, and he must be something more, because the heart-of-gold thing is just too difficult to believe in a series such as this. At the end of episode 4, we are shown that Ba Reum may actually be the serial killer or another killer. He is holding a child hostage and we’ve already learned the killer is trying to manipulate Detective Go using same child.
Mouse, the title comes from the opening scene with the snake and the mouse but also from the genre. Serial killer hunts are often described as “cat and mouse games,” usually with the serial killer as the cat and the detective as the mouse or vice versa. This story will clearly be a bit different as it is the mouse that is ultimately going to be the hunter, and it’s implied that the snake or cat won’t have a chance in the end. The mouse is likely only one person: The child with the genius gene. My theory is that it is Jung Be Reum, and although he will first seem like either the or a serial killer, his real goal is to entrap the real killer. Even with all the brutal killings, his genius will probably, even if he saves the populace in the end, come across as anathema, simply because he could so easily use his genius for evil. That’s my take on the story so far. Hoping Detective Go really shows his smarts and turns out to be the true hero of the story, but we’ll see. He could very well be the mouse, too, an ordinary human triumphing over the too-brilliant psychopaths. There are also several other young men who could all be the killer or killers. Again, the misdirection is heavy, but the specifics of it will only become clear after more episodes come out. More reviews to come on this fascinating show.