(edited to remove massive spoilers from title and opening lines…something I should have known to do in the first place.)
As I wait patiently for the final episodes of I Miss You to arrive (thank you k-dramas for building my character!) I’ve been thinking about Detective Kim…
[Major, major spoilers up through episode five below cut]
…and his death and why the story needed it to happen. I’ve run across the position that his death was merely a cheap trick to toy with viewers’ emotions. That it not only made no narrative sense, it hurt the story. I think that view misunderstands the overall narrative of I Miss You and also whose story is being told.
I’ve written about how the rape at the beginning of the drama has been developed into an important underlying theme. Attached, very firmly, to that theme is the question: what is a “good man.” The character that introduces that question is Detective Kim. When he first meets Han Jung-woo (a character desperately searching for a father-figure) he compliments him for being a good man (because Jung-woo actively stood by Soo-yeon despite her low “daughter of a murderer” status) and then adds that being a good man is his life-goal.
As Detective Kim becomes more and more of a father-figure to Jung-woo, his words of advice are peppered with, “A good man is…” or “A good man does…” And we watch as Detective Kim struggles to live what he teaches. To take action when everyone around him pressures him to let it go, look away. To take the path of least resistance and do nothing when bad things occur. (Interestingly, it’s his pushing back that brings Soo-yeon and her mother and Jung-woo firmly into his circle.)
And then the kidnapping and rape happens.
Everything that occurs afterwards is in reaction to that crisis. And, of course, Detective Kim becomes the Good Man. With everyone else acting badly, the story needs a shining light of good. So Detective Kim acts. Blowing past all the threats and bluster of those trying to convince him to look away, to do nothing, he hunts down the rapist and actually finds the missing Soo-yeon.
But most importantly, he rescues Jung-woo. Getting Jung-woo out of his father’s house (the man behind all the threats and bluster), out of the place where Jung-woo is being told to forget, to let go, to do nothing, Detective Kim encourages Jung-woo to act with him. And the effect he has on Jung-woo is massive. Letting go of his crippling guilt Jung-woo comes back to life. He begins to think and reason and hope. And he too, decides to push back against his father and be a good man.
But I think this is exactly why Detective Kim had to die. He became the good man he set out to be. And he showed us the incredible power a good man has when he acts (he does find Soo-yeon). But this was never Detective Kim’s story. It’s Jung-woo’s. And Detective Kim cannot live Jung-woo’s story for him. The recovery and healing of Soo-yeon is Jung-woo’s story. The rejection of his father’s way of doing things, the struggle to become a good man, is Jung-woo’s story.
Detective Kim serves as Jung-woo’s ideal, his goal. Which allowed Detective Kim to be as awesome as he was. But it also made it a narrative necessity that he die. Because only death would stop a good man from finding Soo-yeon. And Detective Kim is the ultimate good man.