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The Weekend Binge: Lies Hidden in My Garden

Two women – one rich and comfortable, the other one hounded by abuse and poverty – clash when one’s husband is accused of murdering the other’s spouse. But having been subjected to lies, manipulation, and violence, will these two women ever learn to trust themselves and get to the truth of the murder? Or will the men in their lives destroy them first?

The Plot

TW: Domestic violence, self-harm

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“It began with a terrible stench.”

Moon Joo-ran (Kim Tae-hee) is a gorgeous, bourgeois housewife married to a successful doctor Park Jae-ho (Kim Sun-ho), and a mother to a teenage son. After her sister's death, Joo-ran develops an anxiety disorder, and as a result, opts to stay indoors. One day, her peaceful life is shattered when she notices a foul stench in her garden. Paralyzed by anxiety and menacingly gaslit by her own husband, Joo-ran tries to shut out the voices in her head telling her to both dig up the garden and ignore what’s underneath.

Chu Sang-eun (Lim Ji-yeon) is a battered housewife who lives on the poorer side of town. Five months pregnant, overworked, and tired of her husband’s violence, she prays for the day when she can be free of him.

One rainy night, Sang-eun’s husband is found dead. Strangely enough, all signs point to Joo-ran’s husband as the culprit. But is he really the killer? And what connects both men? As the mystery deepens, flashbacks show that the two women share a history of abuse, lies, and maltreatment at the hands of their spouses. So if the doctor is as innocent as he claims to be, who really killed Sang-eun’s husband? And who lies buried underneath Joo-ran’s manicured garden?

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"Your husband killed my husband."

Our Review

Based on the eponymous novel by Kim Jin-young, Lies Hidden in My Garden is less of a K-drama and more of a velvety 8-hour movie that should be savored like a full-bodied wine on a chilly evening. The cinematography of the show is outstanding; each shot is painstakingly poised and beautifully balanced. The surreal palette that shifts from bombastic colors to clever black-and-white that takes its cues from French cinema adds more intriguing layers to the mystery. For a show about secrets, it moves justifiably as such; with a slow, intriguing burn in no rush to reveal everything.

Each scene is filled with artful spaces, sparse dialogue, haunting music, and unreliable points of view, which makes the show a hypnotic treat for all the senses.

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"I heard something."

Lies is the rare drama that teaches the audience to mistrust their intuition, to pay more attention to what is unsaid, and to be skeptical of the characters’ unreliable memories. It especially teaches one to read metaphors scattered artfully in plain sight.

For example, the house of Moon Joo-ran (which shares a resemblance to the famous house in Parasite) is both refuge and a gilded cage; sometimes airy and free, but often dark and stifling. It certainly adds to the Gothic overtones of the drama, painting Joo-ran as the hapless damsel trapped in a metaphorical tower at the complete mercy of her husband. The clever use of light and shadows that casually turn stair banisters, sliding doors, and even dividers and curtains into prison bars and guillotine blades is a clever touch.

Quietly adding to the Gothic atmosphere are subtle nods to the grisly Bluebeard folktale, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, and even some of Falkner’s disturbing A Rose for Emily thrown in for good measure.

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“You should have lived as quietly as you used to.”

Kim Tae-hee is painstakingly perfect as trophy wife Joo-ran, and holds herself quite nicely against the more bombastic Sang-eun (Lim Ji-yeon). Her exquisite doll-like features have an inscrutability that makes for endless intrigue. In fact, Kim’s stoic performance as a wife who struggles with anxiety but never resorts to screechy antics is a breath of fresh air. Ever classy and always so refined, Joo-ran is the calm and restrained yin to Sang-eun’s yang, giving the drama much-needed contrast to keep everything interesting.

Lim Ji-yeon, on the other hand, flips the script from her bullying days in The Glory, and now delivers a powerful, no-nonsense performance as a survivor of abuse. One can feel her seethe with rage and resentment in every frame, especially when she tries to build a life after her husband’s death. Her performance here is so nuanced and intelligent that it is, as spy novelist John Le Carre described a performance in The Spy That Came In from the Cold, “like a violinist going up the E string…that rises and rises…note to note, like a deaf child being taught to hear.”

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"Secrets should be buried."

But where Lies Hidden in My Garden truly excels in is its examination of the profoundly female struggle for true freedom.

Much like heroines in bodice-ripper fiction, both Joo-ran and Sang-eun yearn to break away from their suffocating married lives. The drama focuses on their attempts to free themselves from all the irrational blame and societal shackles until they can live lives free from the violence of men and the cruelty of other women. But insightfully, the drama also shows how women must work to free themselves from the poisons of their own minds. In doing so, the show offers a slow examination of helplessness, co-dependency, and the sheer terror of losing one’s identity outside of marriage.

The drama also makes no secret that wealth, upbringing, or privilege does not shield one from the reality of domestic abuse; in fact, both our heroines suffer in distinct yet equally horrific ways. But there is an odd sense of hope. Like horror’s “final girls," our heroines may not escape unscathed, but they will be — with each other’s help – triumphant in the end.

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"Are you living your own life?"

Lies is also a great example of the female Gothic in the way it explores female oppression, rage, and violence. The Gothic tradition, explains English novelist Angela Carter, was the antidote to feminine domesticity. It is a form that “grandly ignores the value systems of our institutions and deals entirely with the profane.” Indeed, this quiet yet deadly gem of a show makes no bones about profane truths people would rather not talk about: how marriage ruins women and children, how cruelty and selfishness are often disguised as love and loyalty, and how both sexes are equally capable of harming and manipulating each other in a thousand exquisite ways.

It is a show that reminds us that mothers can be poisonous, that “family” is a negotiable term, and that cages can be comfortable, even desirable. That the show carves a path that prioritizes female survival and happiness over marriage and domesticity will certainly ruffle some feathers, but its bleak realism makes a strong case for these rather profane truths.

If you have been longing for a K-drama that is sharper, more complicated, and more astute than the run-of-the-mill mysteries that give too much away too soon, then Lies Hidden in My Garden may just be the stunning 8-hour Gothic treat you didn't know you were looking for.

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"I smell something."

Stream're in the mood for a delicious mystery, or adore aesthetically pleasing k-dramas. The visuals here are top-notch. Also, stream if you're a fan of French films or want to see how k-drama borrows from Hitchcock and other film classics.

Skip if... domestic abuse, psychological manipulation, and other violence against women are uncomfortable to watch.

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