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Stranger 2: Episodes 1-2 Review

Anisa: We’ve been waiting long and impatiently for the follow-up to 2017’s epic, dense, and cerebral thriller Stranger, or as we’re used to calling it, Forest of Secrets, which is a beloved show around here. It’s the first drama we’ll be reviewing weekly on the blog, and we’re super excited to have some friends of the podcast join us for premiere week. First, Yunah, who has joined us for a Spoiled Yak or two. Hi Yunah!

Yunah: Hi Anisa! Thank you so much for having me. This is extra special since my first podcast with you guys was for Forest of Secrets 1! So glad to be invited back! I’m Yunah, I’m Korean American and based in the East Coast. I work in TV, specifically scripted animation and live action development, love all things Forest of Secrets, and wonder when Hwang Shi-mok will ever have the time to pause and eat. Also I’m a full-time servant to a dog named Doogie who rescued a nation in his previous life so it’s the least that I (and the rest of my family) can do.

Saya: We got greedy and invited another friend of the podcast, too. You’ll remember her from the I’m Not a Robot episode—Lee Tennant! Thank you so much for joining us and also getting up at ungodly o’clock for this. 😅

Lee Tennant: Hi guys! It’s so great to be back talking to you again about dramas. The I’m Not a Robot deep dive was so much fun. I’m a huge fan of K-drama from the Land Downunder. And, yes, once again I’m here at an odd time. Although early morning is better than midnight—for me anyway!

Anisa: Welcome friends! And how much of a sight for sore eyes was it to see Shi-mok and Yeo-jin on our screens again, even if it took way too long for them to actually share a screen? (I miss that pojangmacha as much as they do.)

Saya: We waited for practically two hours to see them in the same frame AND YEO-JIN’S SMILE when she catches sight of him. And then they almost immediately get set up to be on opposite sides cracked my heart a little…and I’m getting ahead of myself. *rewinds*

Yunah: Can I just say that five of my close friends texted me because they knew that Season 2 of one of my all-time fav dramas was premiering, and that to be known as that diehard Forest of Secrets fan was just so flattering?! Like, I am honoured to be associated with loving a high-calibre drama. I literally got chills when I heard that familiar orchestral theme. Also I loved that Inception-like animated opening. ‘Skip Intro?’ Not this time, Netflix!

Lee: Everyone is always surprised when I say this but I binged Forest of Secrets in one day. I think I stopped to get a few hours’ sleep but honestly could not stop watching. It was just so gripping. I am looking forward to live-watching it with everyone this time.

Anisa: THAT MUSIC! Yes! And wow, Lee, I’m amazed that you binged it. I recapped Season 1, and despite having that space for in-depth, weekly analysis, I still felt like the show was so layered that I inevitably missed details.

Yunah: They got an actual orchestra to play that song! I saw the video!

Saya: I honestly think it was the music that got me most excited—like it woke up all of my latent Forest of Secrets memories and kicked up the adrenaline. I was like, “I have no idea what is going on” 60% of the time, but I am HERE for it.

Lee: Yes, Saya, THAT. Of all the shows (very very few number of shows) that get a second season out of Korea I’m so excited it’s this one, which had so much to say and was so perfectly and intricately written. Not that I want to disparage the Vampire Prosecutor/Detective series but… well, it’s no Forest of Secrets!

Yunah: It’s so true. Immediately from the get-go, I knew that once again, this drama would be way ahead of me, and I’d have to pause, rewind, replay some scenes, to make sure I understood. I love that writer Lee Soo-yeon is not here to give you hand-holding, explanatory exposition. Also, I don’t mind that my mind is catching up and whirling with questions, because I trust that it will all make sense in the end.

Saya: I’m a little embarrassed to admit it took me twice the time to watch each episode because of rewinding and taking notes.

Anisa: I definitely don’t think anyone needs to be embarrassed! The beauty of this show lies in its complex, layered nature. I’m SO GLAD Lee Soo-yeon returned for this season, as well as a cast who can do justice to her words. No one else could, or should, have done Season 2.

Yunah: Yes Anisa, totally! I was kind of worried that they got a new director this time around, but it’s really the writing that needed to be done by the same brilliant mind that is Lee Soo-yeon.

Lee: What I both loved and hated about the way that Season 1 ended was that it was very natural and very realistic. They didn’t ride to some kind of blazing victory, they didn’t win the war. It was frustrating and a bit depressing but at the same time—that’s how life works, right? You never win against systemic corruption.

Anisa: Absolutely. There is a complexity to the way this show handles the ideas of justice, morality, good and evil, that I’ve rarely if ever seen on TV. And that’s equally clear in Season 2, as we see in the setup of this council to reform the investigation process in which it’s clear that neither the police nor the prosecutors are the heroes in this story.

Lee: I think that what separates Korean dramas from American ones is that in American ones, people win. In that way I think maybe American ones are even more fantastical than the average K-drama. So they never win but they can still fight. And here we are! Still fighting that fight! In some ways it’s depressing but on the other hand it’s not. Because fighting corruption is about small persistent victories I think.

Yunah: Oh that’s such an interesting point you make, Lee. I agree. Maybe as a jaded person myself, I prefer that more realistic resolution. I hate when it’s all sunshine and rainbows at the end because that’s just not how the real world works.

Lee Tennant: It reminds me that in Life, which is also by this writer, they couldn’t ‘win’ against hospital privatisation either.

Saya: What they’ve set up really deftly in these opening episodes is this sense of layers over layers: first, the immediate issues of the opening case with the drowning kids, and then a sharp zoom-out to take in the bigger picture of a system at work. The first episode sets up an almost procedural-like lead-in, and you think that’s the story, but by the second episode, that quickly gives way to this political, bureaucratic battle between police and prosecutors, which is more or less the question with which Season 1 left off.

Yunah: Yes, Saya, I love that, too! We start micro with that Instagram case, and then we build out from there to see this systemic clash between the police and prosecution, which by the way, is an actual conflict that’s happening in Korea.

Anisa: I love how the opening week not only catches us up with the political landscape and developments since the end of last season, but gives you enough context and character-building that you could conceivably start watching with Season 2. Although there is a LOT that you’d miss—in terms of fun references to Season 1, the enjoyment of seeing these characters reunite in all sorts of interesting combinations, and the inalienable fact that Season 1 is perfect TV and every human should see it.

Lee: Yes, Anisa, that’s so true. Season 1 was so perfectly self-contained but also had such organic scope for a new season. And they’ve taken their time getting it together so hopefully it lives up to that potential.