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Lee Seung-gi in a scene from Mouse. The bemusing serial killer K-drama got the operatic ending it scarcely deserved.

Review | K-drama review: Mouse – befuddling serial killer drama gets the operatic ending it doesn’t deserve

  • For the only time in the show’s run, the finale takes things slowly and allows us to process the utterly preposterous storyline it has weaved until now
  • In a show that’s been so meandering, hysterical and illogical, its an endpoint which is nowhere near as satisfying as it should have been

This article contains spoilers.

2/5 stars

There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns. Before their show even aired, the creators of serial killer thriller Mouse clearly laid out their intention. They wanted to realise a fantastical “what if?” scenario: what if a psychopath could feel remorse for their actions?

The resulting programme, a manic and maddening melee of murder and mystery, held on to that notion, which scrapped and heaved its way through the show’s twists, turns and puzzling detours.

In its opening flashback episode, Mouse presented the discovery of a psychopath gene, which can identify future serial killers before birth with 99 per cent accuracy. Beyond closed doors, high-powered figures narrowly vote down a bill to abort babies carrying the gene.

This episode also introduces us to two babies possessing this very gene – one, the son of a serial killer, the other not. In the present day, they become friendly neighbourhood cop Jung Ba-reum (Lee Seung-gi) and aloof doctor Sung Yo-han (Kwon Hwa-woon). We’re not sure who is the notorious Head Hunter’s (Ahn Jae-wook) progeny, nor do we know which one of the two is responsible for an ongoing serial killing spree.

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What follows is a convoluted tangle of investigations dovetailing the questionable methods of alcoholic and irascible detective Go Moo-chi (Lee Hee-joon) and the investigative reporting of TV show host Choi Hong-ju (Kyung Soo-jin). Ba-reum’s young neighbour Oh Bong-yi (Park Ju-hyun), who aggressively pines for him, also becomes increasingly involved.

Further complicating matters are several instances of pseudoscience relating to things like genetics and semi-brain transplants. It’s all outrageous poppycock that makes an already hokey murder mystery utterly bewildering. However, for those who had remembered what the show was initially setting out to do, it did set the stage for its eventual endgame.

That endgame involved a mysterious OZ group which has been closely tied to both Ba-reum and Yo-han for their whole lives, though they never noticed them. They’ve been responsible for some of the deaths around them and they manipulate other events, always covering their tracks with remarkable speed, sometimes erasing a murder scene within minutes.

Kyung Soo-jin in a still from Mouse.

The head of the group turns out to be presidential adviser Choi Young-shin (Jung Ae-ri), who was one of the supporters of the psychopath gene abortion bill from decades earlier. After identifying Ba-reum and Yo-han as babies with the psychopath gene, her nefarious plan has been to shape them into serial killers, all to motivate the public to pass the failed law. Her dream is a psychopath-free utopia.

The OZ subplot was a late-stage sidetrack and quite ineffective as the final villain, particularly as the group’s machinations undermine – for a lack of a better word – the horrific crimes of the show’s main serial killer, which turned out to be Ba-reum. The double-reveal is that Ba-reum was the Head Hunter’s son as well, since he and Yo-han were switched in their youth.

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Yet, since halfway through the series part of Yo-han’s brain was secretly added to Ba-reum’s cranium – by none other than the Head Hunter – when both were on the brink of death, the Ba-reum of the rest of the show is really a fusion of both characters.

Once he’s completed his mission to take down the OZ Group, Ba-reum ultimately confesses to the crimes the previous Ba-reum committed, and he accepts his punishment. And so we reach the endpoint the show has been striving for. Ba-reum, a serial killer, feels remorse for his actions and furthermore dies a painful death, owing to complications from his experimental surgery, while sitting in a church pew, presumably seeking salvation from the almighty.

It’s a fantastical and preposterous conceit, but damned if the show didn’t find its way there in the end. It’s so strongly suggested that this new Ba-reum is a different person that it’s hard to say what kind of remorse he’s feeling or whether his fate is some sort of divine retribution, but the closing images of the show are symbolic and thought-provoking.

Park Ju-hyun stars in Mouse.

For the only time in the show’s run, the finale takes things slowly and allows us to process what’s happening. Granted, the final episode is a whopping 100 minutes but, patience aside, it’s a compelling and operatic ending. However, it’s one that the show didn’t really deserve.

Satisfying as this endpoint should have been, the rest of the show has been so meandering, hysterical and illogical that it feels like its own kind of a cheat. The creators knew exactly where they wanted to go, but the journey to get there – all 27 hours of it, not even counting three specials – weren’t worth the trouble.

Lee Hee-hoon (left) and Lee Seung-gi in a scene from Mouse.

Mouse is streaming on Viu in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.