‘Hierarchy’ Recap (Episodes 1-7) Explained: Who Killed Kang Ha’s Brother, In-Han?


Netflix has had a fair amount of success with its outlandish and unrealistic teen high school dramas in recent times, starting with Elite and its various other versions throughout the world, like Blood & Water or Class. It was, therefore, only a matter of time that another addition of the kind was made in the already popular South Korean market, and the inevitable has finally arrived in the form of Hierarchy. The plot in this seven-episode series follows a new scholarship student named Kang Ha at Korea’s most prestigious institution, Jooshin High School. But Kang Ha’s presence quickly stirs up a recent mystery, and matters of blackmail and past secrets soon crop up. There is hardly anything unique or topical in Hierarchy by its end, and it can be enjoyed only by fans of high school dramas.

Spoiler Alert

What is the Netflix K-drama about?

Hierarchy opens with a short scene in which a young man in his school uniform runs out onto the dark streets frantically one night. He is clearly terrorized by something, as he shouts about exposing everyone’s dark secrets and about how he has been mistreated, and he keeps running away from some threat. But it all ends very soon for the boy, as he is hit by a speeding car and dies immediately. This accident is what shapes up the entire drama in the series a little while later, and we are introduced to the theater of this drama in the meantime. The Jooshin High School is considered the most elite and prestigious institution in all of South Korea, and it is owned and run by generations of the wealthy and influential Jooshin Group. There is a very clear line of difference between the commoners and the elite at this high school, as different colored ties signify which student has been naturally admitted, meaning that they come from enormous wealth, and who has been accepted because of a scholarship.

Kim Ri-an is the hotshot at this lopsided school setup, and he is revered by everyone, including the teachers and the principal herself. This preferential treatment is because Ri-an is the only successor to the Jooshin Group, which means that he will technically become the owner of the school someday. Naturally, Ri-an’s closest friends are also extremely opulent, and they are also granted the same privileges at school as him. His best friend, Lee Woo-jin, belongs to a family of top politicians, and the latter’s father is presently a presidential candidate as well. Yoon He-ra is the daughter of a highly successful trading businessman, and she, too, has had a life of extreme comfort. Although the two friends give Ri-an company, with He-ra even wanting to become his lover, the young man is disturbed by the absence of a particular student, Jung Jae-i, at the beginning of the school year.

Ri-an and Jae-i have not only been very close friends since childhood, but they have also turned lovers, although very few people knew of this relationship. Jae-i’s father is the owner of the Jaeyul Group of Industries, which is a direct business rival to the Jooshins, and so the kids cannot simply tell the adults about their love. However, Jae-i had suddenly gone off to the United States without telling Ri-an anything, and when she finally returns, things turn all the more mysterious as she breaks up with her boyfriend without any explanation. Meanwhile, a new student named Kang Ha is admitted to Jooshin High after securing a hefty scholarship, and he soon starts to ask questions about the strange death of the student seen at the very beginning of Hierarchy.

What is Kang Ha’s real intention?

As soon as Kang Ha starts asking about the death of the previous scholarship student, it becomes clear that he is related to the boy in some way. The boy was an exceptionally bright student named In-han, who had ranked first in the nationwide scholarship examination, and because of that, he was admitted to Jooshin High. But In-han had a terribly hard time at the school, as he was bullied by the rich students, and he incidentally had run-ins with Ri-an and his friends as well. Kang Ha is actually the brother of Kang In-han, and the two happened to be non-identical twins. On the night of his accident, In-han had called up his brother to inform him about the situation but was hit by the car before he could utter a word. Although there was no exchange of words, the protagonist could obviously guess that there was something suspicious about the manner in which his brother lost his life. When no official investigation into the car accident was launched, and no perpetrator was caught by the authorities, Kang grew all the more confident that the elite school was somehow linked to his brother’s demise.

After successfully infiltrating Jooshin High, for Kang is also very meritorious and cracking a scholarship test is an easy task for him, he attempts to become friends with the rich kids. He intentionally gets romantically involved with Jae-i, knowing that it will anger Ri-an. His intention is to get Ri-an and his friends to react in a manner that would prove their involvement in the murder of In-han. Within a few days spent at the school, and after learning about the extremely toxic environment at the place for newcomers and anyone except for the ultra-rich, Kang is certain that Ri-an is the perpetrator behind the murder. Although he tries various ways to get Ri-an arrested, by using the information that he buys and takes drugs, the situation does not exactly play out as planned, and he has to get even closer to the students.

In the process, Kang really succeeds in unifying the scholarship students against their rich and oppressive schoolmates, and this is a revolutionary step according to Hierarchy. The series puts a lot of emphasis on the economic divide between these two sides and the resulting social disparities that result from it. Therefore, it also has to focus on how the situation needs to be changed, for the show intends to be representative of real society along with being a high school drama. All of the scholarship students, who come from comparatively poorer families, simply accept their situation and remain docile in front of the vehement bullying, which essentially makes the bullies grow more confident. The series harps on the need to topple this social hierarchy through the subplot of Yoon He-ra, who suddenly loses all her wealth due to her family’s bankruptcy. Once a ruthless bully who would look down upon the scholarship students, He-ra now faces the same treatment that she used to inflict on others, and realizes how wrong she was. 

Why is Jae-i being blackmailed?

Jae-i returns from the US to rejoin school at the beginning of the academic year, but she is not in the most comfortable mental space as she starts being regularly blackmailed by someone. Initially, the blackmailer threatens to reveal private videos of Jae-i and her erstwhile boyfriend, Ri-an, which had clearly been shot at Jae-i’s vacation home. She is naturally very frightened of the consequences of this leak, as it would absolutely ruin her relationship with her father. Jae-i has a very difficult time in her family as well, since she does not stay with her biological mother. Her father, the wealthy businessman Park Jaeyul, had become intimate with a woman during his youth, and Jae-i was the child of this romance. Although Park had accepted the baby girl and raised her as an heir, he did not keep any contact with the mother, and he even considers her to be morally unworthy of him. Despite providing a life to the girl, Park is actually more concerned about raising her to be the next successor of his business empire, and he outright states that she cannot have her own opinions or desires as long as she is associated with the family.

Park had remarried and had a son named Jae-hyeok, and at present the stepbrother is also extremely hateful towards Jae-i. This is clearly because he wants the entire property to himself, and he does not consider Jae-i to be his equal, either. Incidentally, Jae-hyeok had found out about the private videos of his stepsister, and on various occasions, he tried to use them to gain an advantage over her. Ultimately, it is revealed that the perpetrator behind the regular blackmail was a student named Nam Ju-won, who is also the son of the principal of Jooshin High. Ju-won was extremely frustrated with the social hierarchy at his school, and when he found out that the school recorded and monitored every single piece of footage of the students, he came up with the idea of blackmailing Jae-i in order to ruin her and Ri-an’s lives. 

Ju-won had become good friends with In-han, and got a hold of the intimate video that Jae-Hyeok had recorded to blackmail his sister into giving him her share of their dad’s inheritance. Ju-won knows that releasing this video would surely cause a scandal among not just the school students but their respective families as well. Especially after the death of In-han, he grows even more vengeful and starts the blackmail, for he also believes that Ri-an and Jae-i are the ones to blame for the murder. However, In-han had also developed a habit of carrying a camera pen in his pocket, with which he accidentally found out about a different secret as well. As it turns out, Jae-i had become pregnant with the child of Ri-an right at the end of the previous school year, and this was precisely the reason for her suddenly going away to the USA.

Jae-i knew that news of her unwanted pregnancy would terribly enrage her father, and it would, in turn, create a lot of problems for the family. Therefore, she knew that she had to get rid of it somehow, and in order to do this, she had flown off to the USA. In America, she was photographed by some paparazzi while visiting an abortion clinic, owing to the fact that her father is an industrialist, which makes her a celebrity of sorts. However, Jae-i could not go through with the abortion, as she found it too cruel to kill her baby even before it was born. It was ultimately a boon, though, that she lost the baby in a natural process, considering that her life would have turned upside down had it been born. At present, the only memory of the baby that was once inside her body is a photograph of the ultrasound test, and she still cherishes it as a significant part of her life. 

At the end of Hierarchy, photos and videos are all leaked, and Jae-i is the only one to accept all blame for it initially, soon to be joined by Ri-an as well. Both the characters realize their mistakes and accept that the best way to move forward is by taking accountability for their actions. In this while, Park had found a suitor for Jae-i in New York, which would strengthen his business ties as well, and ordered her to go to the USA and settle there to complete the rest of her education and get married. Lee Woo-jin also wants to take revenge on Jae-i for the sake of his true love, Yoon He-ra, and so he shows the abortion clinic photo to Park. This further ensures that Park will send his daughter away from all the scandal, to New York. 

But in the end, Jae-i decides to not stay related to her father’s family anymore, giving up all the title and fortune, which also means that she does not have to go away to the USA. Instead, the girl is seen traveling to some part of Korea, where she goes to a house on a small island amidst calm and serene nature. This house is where Jae-i’s mother lives, and in the end, she reunites with her biological mother after all these years and decides to spend her life with her. She also stays away from both her lovers, Ri-an and Kang Ha, deciding to be by herself for some time and not be dependent on either of them.

Who was In-han’s killer?

During his time at Jooshin High, Kang In-han faced tremendous bullying, and on one occasion, he found Jae-i sulking after the latter started getting blackmailed. In-han provided her support, and the two became friends soon, but Ri-an disliked this bond as he was jealous of them. Ri-an’s friends, who are more like his followers and henchmen, brutally bullied In-han even more after this development, which led to him panicking over his own safety. The student from the family of politicians, Lee Woo-jin, had started a romantic affair with one of the teachers at Jooshin High, named Ms. Han, which obviously had to be kept a secret from everyone, including the friends. On the night of Woo-jin’s birthday, the boy and the woman were getting intimate on the stairwell when In-han suddenly walked in upon them.

Incidentally, at this very party, In-han was being hunted by the bully-friends of Ri-an, and so he was simply looking for a way of escape when he walked into the stairwell and found out about the affair. Ms. Han then chased the boy around, hoping to explain things to him, but she mistakenly hit him with her car, which resulted in the death of In-han. The boy was carrying his camera pen during this time, and he had recorded Han and Woo-jin making out, which made the teacher not report the accident to anyone and simply brush it under the rug. Woo-jin had found out about this later, and at present, he finally helps Kang Ha get hold of all the evidence and hand it over to the police. In the end, Ms. Han is arrested for the murder, and the entire Jooshin High School is held responsible for a serious ring of bullying, drugs, and extortion. The principal is naturally fired and replaced by a different woman, but Jooshin High continues to exist.

What does the end-credits scene signify?

Hierarchy also presents a brief end-credits scene, as life at Jooshin High continues normally with the academic session resuming. However, a massive discovery is made by He-ra when she suddenly stumbles across a dead body lying in a pool of blood inside one of the classrooms. The body is of a male student and seems most likely to be that of Jae-i’s half-brother, Jae-hyeok. But there is clearly some mystery behind this death, for Kang Ha seems to have known about it, as he messages Ri-an at the exact time of the discovery. It is made to appear like Kang somehow caused the death of Jae-hyeok, with the sole intention of putting the blame on Ri-an. After all, Ri-an had not been punished in any way, despite indirectly being the reason for the death of In-han. Everyone also knew that Jae-i did not have a good relationship with her brother, and so Ri-an killing Jae-hyeok out of vengeance for losing his lover is not very far-fetched. This is clearly a teaser for a second season of Hierarchy, and things might get clearer once it arrives in the future. 

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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