First Impressions: “Lies Hidden In My Garden” Promises A Cold, Slow Burn
“Lies Hidden In My Garden” marks Kim Tae Hee’s much-anticipated return to dramas and Lim Ji Yeon’s quick re-emergence after her hotly discussed role in “The Glory.” In a world with an abundance of true crime podcasts, thrillers, and murder mysteries, the show deftly distinguishes itself with not one but two unreliable narrators, an eerily bare score, and a sense of unease in every shot. Here’s everything I loved about the newest drama to hit the screen!
Warning: spoilers for episodes 1-2 below.
1. Two unreliable narrators: Joo Ran
The show is told from two points of view. The first person is Moon Joo Ran (Kim Tae Hee), a housewife who lives a privileged life in a gated community with her doctor husband Park Jae Ho (Kim Sung Oh) and teenage son Park Seung Jae (Cha Sung Jae). We’re immediately launched into the fact that something isn’t quite right with Joo Ran or with her life. She cleans all day and sleeps for the rest of it. Her dreams are a troubled sequence that mimics Bluebeard’s room, featuring her son in a fox mask and a door within her consciousness that holds memories of her sister’s death. And she seems to have done something strange in Seoul that resulted in the family having to move to a gated community.
Her family life is strained. Her son is academically gifted but seems to want nothing to do with Joo Ran, while her husband seems to care deeply for her but also gaslights her at the drop of a hat. When Joo Ran insists that there’s a strange smell in the garden, her husband passes it off as fertilizer numerous times, convincing her that it’s in her head until she happens to hear a neighbor say the same thing about her home. It’s worth noting that Joo Ran doesn’t seem to fully trust her husband either because she investigates the smell herself after pretending that she believes him. But given her precarious mental state, it’s difficult to tell whether she can be trusted. And the same goes for our other narrator.
2. The other unreliable narrator: Sang Eun
Choo Sang Eun (Lim Ji Yeon) has a markedly different life to Joo Ran’s. She’s regularly abused by her scumbag husband Kim Yoon Beom (Choi Jae Rim). Everyone in their apartment complex knows about it but can do nothing to help her. For her part, Sang Eun is secretly gathering evidence to use against her husband, knowing that courts regularly favor men and wanting him jailed. She’s also faking a pregnancy for reasons we don’t know. She hears Yoon Beom on the phone making threatening calls to someone and watches warily as he even takes her to the blackmailee’s home and acts subtly threatening toward the man’s wife. Unbeknownst to Sang Eun, this is Joo Ran.
But that very night, when Sang Eun spends the night at her mother’s (a dementia patient) home, she receives word that her husband has been found dead. And her first reaction is to finally eat everything she wants. What’s fascinating is that both women are unreliable narrators, but Sang Eun has full confidence in what she sees and hears despite the years of abuse she’s suffered. Meanwhile, Joo Ran clearly doesn’t even trust herself. And both women’s troubles seem to stem from the men in their life.
2. All the suspicious men
Yoon Beom easily outs himself as a villain from the start. In addition to abusing his wife, he’s also been lying to her for the past couple of months. It’s only after his death that Sang Eun finds out that he was kicked out of his job and withdrew their rental deposit because he urgently needed money. She finds his hustle: setting up men with minors and blackmailing them with the photos. One of those photos was of Jae Ho kneeling beside a minor. Whether he’s actually guilty of making advances toward minors or whether Yoon Beom was using a picture that could be misinterpreted so as to extort him is unclear.
What is clear is that Yoon Beom ordered Jae Ho to show up at a fishing spot in the middle of the night with 500 million won (approximately $384,000). When Jae Ho ghosted him, he showed up at Jae Ho’s home and poked around their house despite Joo Ran demanding that he leave. But Jae Ho is equally sketchy.
He gaslights Joo Ran at every turn. First, he tells her that there’s no smell coming from the garden. When she finds a literal corpse there, he tells her that it was a glove filled with fertilizer. He also lies that he never went out to meet Yoon Beom when Joo Ran woke up to find him gone from their bedroom and mud on the tires. Finally, there’s a strange recurring scene regarding their son, where Joo Ran seems to be convinced that Seung Jae is lactose-intolerant, but Jae Ho keeps giving him milk and cookies as a study snack. Joo Ran almost seems to suspect there being something in Seung Jae’s milk. Nothing is what it seems.
3. Every woman for herself
It’s fascinating that Joo Ran’s first impulse upon finding a dead body in her garden is to sit and wait for Jae Ho to come home so she can prove that she was right. She doesn’t even call the cops. There’s a guardedness to both her and Sang Eun that could make them allies or enemies as both try to figure out what their husbands were up to.
Upon finding the potentially comprising picture of Jae Ho that Yoon Beom had on his second phone (which appears to be a woman’s phone), Sang Eun’s first impulse isn’t to warn Joo Ran but to continue the blackmail. With the biggest burden in her life finally gone, Sang Eun’s going all out to do as she wishes. The only question is whether soft-spoken Joo Ran is going to be collateral or whether she’ll go equally feral to protect her family.
4. The unsettling cinematography and lack of a score
This show has been hitting it out of the park in directing, coloring, and editing. Joo Ran’s scenes are a bluish white, with wide shots emphasizing the stark emptiness of her home and her life. Sang Eun’s are a little more yellow-toned and largely take place outside in busy, cluttered areas like her life. There’s a jarring sense of unease to all of Joo Ran’s scenes, with languorous, slow shots at times and quick cuts at others to demonstrate when her mind cannot push aside all the questions she has any longer. The lack of an underpinning score in the drama only solidifies its quiet, dangerous feel like a suburban housewife horror story.
With two excellent first episodes, “Lies Hidden in My Garden” is off to a strong start. Given the show’s shorten run of eight episodes, we’ll likely be getting answers to some burning questions really soon. Like what’s up with Joo Ran believing that her son is lactose intolerant? What did Joo Ran do in Seoul for them to have to move here? How is Joo Ran’s sister’s death connected to all this, if at all? And who killed Yoon Beom? One thing’s for sure—I’m really looking forward to finding out.
Check out the drama below!
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Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she fangirls over Ji Sung, and spins thrillers set in increasingly fantastic worlds. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!
Currently Watching: “My Perfect Stranger,” “See You in My 19th Life,” “Delightfully Deceitful,” “Lies Hidden in My Garden,” “Numbers,” and “King the Land”
Looking Forward to: “Gyeongseong Creature,” “Ask The Stars,” “The Girl Downstairs,” “The Worst Evil,” “Queen of Tears,” “Vigilante,” “Demon,” “Daily Dose of Sunshine,” and Ji Sung’s next drama.