Mouse: a flawed masterpiece

I’m honestly impressed that Mouse was realized as a mystery and thriller series, because it definitely aimed high and was difficult to execute successfully. There have been many impressive scripts in Korean thriller series, but Mouse was truly novel and unpredictable. Mouse was able to do many things successfully, but the series hinged on Lee Seung-gi’s central performance: without his ability to provide nuance to Jung Ba-reum’s character, the series would have fallen flat.

I couldn’t discuss the series properly without digging into plot points, so — SPOILERS BELOW.

If I can provide only one reason for people to watch the series, it’s because of Lee Seung-gi’s performance. After watching the series, I was surprised that he wasn’t nominated for the Baeksang Awards. In Mouse, he performed four different roles so seamlessly, that without his excellence, Mouse wouldn’t have been as compelling. In the first part, he seemed kind and unintelligent; after his encounter with Yo-han, he was secretive and conflicted; when he tried to investigate what happened in the past, he became cerebral and murderous; and, finally, he became determined and repentant. Lesser actors would have a difficult time providing a smooth transition among these roles, but Lee Seung-gi was able to seamlessly flow across these different personalities. Mouse was able to make me empathize with a psychopath: that’s brilliant writing and acting.

Mouse is, of course, more than Lee Seung-gi’s performance. It alludes to the films Silence of the Lambs and Minority Report, and to the Psycho-Pass anime series. Common themes shared by these examples include the complex nature of psychopathy and the limits of crime’s preventable nature. Both Silence of the Lambs and Psycho-Pass hinge upon the performance of the psychopath as a main character: psychopaths are often contemptible through the traditional lens of morality, so it is unsettling for the viewer to actually root for them. It was the case with Hannibal Lecter — and is also the case with Jung Ba-reum.

Mouse begins by asking the question: should potential psychopaths be killed before they were born? It was, after all, because of the choice of Ba-reum’s mother that the events in the series occurred.

The series started innocuously enough: a veteran detective partners with a kind, rookie police officer to hunt down an intelligent serial killer. By the sixth episode, the killer seems to have been caught. However, Ba-reum was struck down by him and got to be in critical condition. When Ba-reum comes to, however, he seems to have the memory of Yo-han (the suspected serial killer) and slowly discovers that it was he who was the psychopath all along. However, because he now has emotions due to the brain transplant, he feels guilt and remorse toward the murders he had perpetuated.

I didn’t intend to be spoiled with the series, but even before I had come into the series, I already knew that Ba-reum was a psychopath. Despite that, however, the series remained exciting and unpredictable until the very end: I had not known that there was something larger than his murders, and it was captivating to see Ba-reum seek redemption. The finale was sad, but satisfying and appropriate for the series: Ba-reum ultimately had to pay for his misdeeds. His final victory before his death was that he closed the circle of the murders and discovered the humanity he desperately sought for years.

Mouse is a great series. It is, however, a flawed masterpiece, especially with respect to the execution of Ba-reum’s murders. For instance, I’d been bothered how Ba-reum’s phone was traced to a different place when he was using a different burner phone, but that was probably because the police just wanted to make sure. I also had a hard time understanding why Father Ko didn’t say anything to condemn Ba-reum, but then again I understand that he tried to live a truly good life. These are minor quibbles, however. Like The Silence of the Lambs, the few minor errors are covered up with Lee Seung-gi’s transcendent performance as Jung Ba-reum. Even at his lowest point, one can’t help but root for him to achieve his redemption. What makes him even more sympathetic as a character is that he does not give himself any excuses: when he finally had emotions because of Yo-han, he did everything suitable to set things right before he passed on.

As a unique, well-written and complex thriller, Mouse is already highly recommended. Because of Lee Seung-gi’s performance, however, Mouse became a flawed masterpiece.

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