'The Killing Vote' review: Putting a new spin on voter fatigue

'Yes, I'm the spiritual grandson of the guy who had you all vote on whether or not The Joker kills Robin. Move along.' Photos: Handout

A show like this immediately became linked to Batman in this old comics aficionado's cobwebbed head.

Not just for the vigilantism on show, or the title's similarity to The Killing Joke, arguably the greatest single-issue tale ever of the Darknight Detective and his eternal nemesis The Joker.

Mainly, it's for the notorious 1988 storyline A Death In The Family, where readers got to vote on whether or not Joker kills Robin (Jason Todd at the time) at the end.

Guess what? The readers voted to off the poor sidekick. As a result, Todd became one of the medium's most fractured and tormented souls (hey, death is never permanent in comics) and my faith in fandom's collective humanity was forever shaken.

That's the thing about such a detached method of arriving at a verdict: the long-distance, impersonal nature of the process isolates the decisionmakers from any relatability to the one they're deciding on, fictional or otherwise.

'Do you like my prison kit? I call it the when-Hannibal-met-Clarice look.''Do you like my prison kit? I call it the when-Hannibal-met-Clarice look.'

So what does K-drama The Killing Vote, adapted from a 2015 webtoon, have to do with all that? Well, considering the vigilante aspect, there's a palpable desire among its characters for the scales of justice to be balanced in a time when vicious criminals easily escape punishment by gaming the system.

But the question is, does society really benefit from the "democratisation" of pronouncing judgment in such cases? Or does participating in such an exercise only cause the social fabric to fray and shred?

The nominal villain of the piece – a dog-masked mystery man dubbed Gaetal, which apparently translates to "dog mask" – hacks into everyone's phone simultaneously one night to get them to vote on whether or not he should execute a particular criminal.

If the public is more than 50% in favour of execution, then it's hasta la vista, scumbag.

The promise of a premise like this grabs your attention, right? Especially when sentiments (and emotions) rage everywhere over punishments not fitting the crime.

'It seems like I'm listening to someone through my earpiece, but you all know I'm really just checking my hair.''It seems like I'm listening to someone through my earpiece, but you all know I'm really just checking my hair.'

To further erode society's confidence in the system, Gaetal derides law enforcement with each mass virtual appearance and practically laughs in its face.

Now, about that face. Having just watched The Glory, I have to say it was jarring to see its uber-bully Lim Ji-yeon showing up here in a protagonist's role as police Cyber Safety Bureau detective Ji-Hyun.

Yet here she shines as the conscience of both the show and its version of law and order's harried forces, shouting down superiors who cover up difficult cases rather than investigate them, while also suffering the cold-storage consequences of being a whistleblower.

Ji-hyun somehow makes her way onto the anti-Gaetal task force headed up by Kim Mu-chan (Park Hae-jin, Bad Guys), a cop who is not above inflicting street justice on perps as long as he can drag them to court in (more or less) one piece.

'If only I had one of these powerful flashlights back when I was tormenting Dong-eun in high school. But that was a lifetime ago.''If only I had one of these powerful flashlights back when I was tormenting Dong-eun in high school. But that was a lifetime ago.'

Rounding out this little circle is Kwon Seon-joo (Park Sung-woong), a respected professor serving a long jail sentence. He is somehow connected to Gaetal (the less said about that here, the better for your viewing experience) and again, it's disconcerting to see him in a (kind of) sympathetic role so soon after his turn as Bloodhounds' vile and ruthless villain.

It would have been fine if the focus had been mostly on this trio as it went about uncovering the mystery of Gaetal and thwarting his fortnightly executions. But no, Killing Vote had to incorporate the worst aspects of K-dramas to "complement" its exemplary efforts at generating tension.

I'm talking about the improbable coincidences and mandatory clowning about that, to be honest, do have their place in some shows (comedy-action dramas like Fiery Priest, for one).

Here, though, they are just annoying and incongruous when there is so much potential to evoke profound thought or even self-reflection on the viewer's part, much like society on the show constantly questions and revises its attitude towards Gaetal.

Examples of the bits that don't fit: what are the odds that a prominent politician's sickly but sinister son, who's somehow connected to the crime that put Kwon in jail, happens to be a teacher in Ji-hyun's younger sister Joo Min's (Kwon Ah-reum) high school class?

Or that ambitious journalist Chae Do-hee (Choi Yu-hwa), who strikes a questionable deal with the cops over the Gaetal case, has a past link to Ji-hyun?

And that Joo Min's classmate Ji-hoon (Seo Yung-joo) has mad skills that get her to enlist him at playing amateur sleuth in the Gaetal case – and somehow they manage to do this with Ji-hyun and Mu-chan's tacit blessing?

It's all right in small doses, but becomes annoying when characters who should stay on the sidelines start wandering into active crime scenes just for the sake of raising the stakes, every darn time – seriously, how tiny is this city anyway?

Going by the K-drama playbook, it seems certain that the key characters will be forced to confront difficult questions and make hard choices before it's all over, and I really hope the creative team dispenses with the fluff by then.

Still, with only five of its planned 12 episodes viewed at the time of writing, The Killing Vote's merits outweigh its demerits by a considerable margin. So this writer, at least, votes to see it through to the end.

New episodes of The Killing Vote arrive every week on Prime Video.

7 10


Robin dies again ... and again

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