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Stranger 2: Episodes 11-12 Review

The disparate pieces of the puzzle are beginning to come together, but there’s still no sign of a breakthrough. Everyone’s feeling the strain as the investigation leads to another dead end, and human life once again takes a backseat to politics. At least Shi-mok and Yeo-jin get to share a few moments of camaraderie this week, complete with food and drink, teasing, and home truths.


Lee: He did. And it wasn’t one of his little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it curve of lips at the edge. It was a real genuine smile. My heart filled, then broke, then spilled everywhere.

Anisa: It hurts my heart to see his stress headaches, but it made it all worth it to have that happen in front of Yeo-jin, so he couldn’t just stiff-upper-lip it. Instead we got that entire stairwell sequence of them going back to their old dynamic, with her teasing him into a smile, smacking him a little too hard, explaining his expressions to him. I was overcome with happiness and sadness at the same time.

Yunah: That was a legitimate smile! It made me smile! And naturally, it came about because of talk of loose bowels! 🤣

Lee: I appreciate that she understands that he has emotions and takes the time to explain them to him. “You’re stressed because you want to be investigating Dong-jae’s disappearance so let’s go and do that.”

Anisa: And I just want to point out, before we move on from them together, that when they went to get a drink together (I CHEERED when she asked and he said yes), he very carefully put his hand on the makgeolli kettle when she was pouring her serving. Shi-mok, who cares not one whit about keeping the social norms with anyone, being meticulously polite to Yeo-jin in every instance. It just gets me in the heart, because you know that’s the equivalent of a declaration of eternal love and friendship from anyone else.

Yunah: I noticed that hand on the makgeolli kettle, too! Little gestures like that speak volumes. He truly respects Yeo-jin.

Saya: And it’s not just respect and politeness, but it’s real affection 😭 Are we allowed to ship them? I mean, I know it sounds like it’s trivialising the depth of their connection, but the two of them together are so much more than the sum of their individualness. I actually don’t need it to be romance, I just want them to be together more than they are apart.

Lee: I don’t ship them and I have feelings about shipping. But, you know, that’s just a personal thing. Of course anybody who ships them is allowed to ship them. You have my permission to ship them (secretly judging you).

Yunah: You can ship them, but even Doona said a “dee-ro-ree” moment wouldn’t quite fit in the dark and mysterious realm of Forest of Secrets!

Anisa: I agree with Doona, but also, I’ve been shipping them since Season 1 and I have no regrets. Like you said Saya, I don’t need what they have to be defined—I just want them to breathe the same air on my screen.

Lee: I like that way of putting it. I love their partnership, I love how they work together. I just want them to be in each other’s orbit. There was a lot going on this episode. Things are coming together. But aside from the moments between Shi-mok and Yeo-jin, which were LOVE (heart dam failure), I was struck by the ongoing contrast between our two leads and their dark doppelgangers Choi Bit and Tae-ha. And I am calling them a dark mirror at this point, although that might be overstating things.

Anisa: Agreed on the dark doppelganger aspect! When they were like, “Those two spend way too much time together,” I was going, SOUNDS RICH COMING FROM YOU.

Lee: Yeo-jin to Shi-mok, “let’s get a drink”. Show cuts to Choi Bit and Tae-ha meeting for coffee. But the reason I call them dark doppelgangers is because I think that Shi-mok and Yeo-jin are showing us what it’s like when the police and prosecution work together as intended. While their sunbaes are showing us what happens when that relationship goes wrong…

Saya: That’s a fascinating way to look at it, actually. My takeaway from the second council meeting was the same (thank you Geon for that brilliant call-out about them arguing for the sake of arguing!)—that their problems would be really easy to solve if only they came at them co-operatively instead of combatively.

Anisa: Totally. And he was also throwing some subtle shade, since the National Assembly members are notorious for getting into petty arguments on the floor that can devolve into fistfights. Geon was basically calling them out for being childish and it made me laugh.

Saya: And how incredibly effective it was—Geon is the lowest ranking person there, and he can call out their BS just like that. I like how it demonstrates, in a way, how the higher up the ranks you go, the more you lose sight of what’s important on the ground.

Lee: And Kim Sa-hyun was being so kind and empathetic and genuine to Shi-mok and then the second he got into the council meeting he started being this smirky, superior, arrogant persona he saves for when he’s with his social inferiors.

Anisa: It really goes to show how, for most people, being a “good person” in their private life and even in work settings doesn’t mean they won’t revert to the pressures and machinations of the system when they’re put in a situation when the stakes are high. Sa-hyun is a great example of someone who is “nice” but still very much playing the game. Which also showed when Woo lost it yelling at Shi-mok, and Sa-hyun (sympathetically) told him to fall in line.

Saya: I found that switch actually really delightful! Because Kim Sa-hyun has really grown on me in the time he’s been sort of taking care of Shi-mok, but he is absolutely still playing the game, whether it’s by necessity, habit or conviction. I also loved that moment after the meeting when Woo observes to Choi that between Shi-mok and Yeo-jin, “it seems like if one of them knows something, the other learns it right away.” You may hate it, shady chief people, but I LOVE THAT.

Yunah: Choi Bit and Woo Tae-ha are so shady. Dong-jae’s been missing for 2348230948 days, and the latter doesn’t seem the least bit stressed. Does no one care that the weasel hasn’t been found yet?! Or maybe Woo knows Dong-jae’s fine? I need some Dong-jae answers! But given who the writer is, we probably won’t get any answers until maybe the week before the finale. I feel like we’ve been tossed multiple cases, and the only one we got some resemblance of closure on is the Segok one; it was indeed a suicide, and there was even a suicide note. The case that’s become more complicated is the one involving Park Kwang-soo, the prosecutor who mysteriously died on the highway.

Lee: The way the Segok case played out too reinforced the themes about corruption coming from a place that’s very human. This group of officers we saw as being vicious corrupt bullies were just trying to help out their colleague with an ill mother. And the Captain was filled with regret for letting it happen.

Yunah: Yes, and we see Captain Baek wonder what could’ve been had he just nipped it in the bud and refused bribes from the very start. The roots of corruption always start from a tiny seed.

Anisa: I find it a little hard to believe that the dark secret at the heart of their bribery scandal was rooted in such selflessness, given how they literally drove that officer to his death with their bullying. I’m not convinced we’re done with this case, but you’re right in that as always, even the “baddies” carry shades of grey.

Saya: Captain Baek’s regret felt like the emotional heavyweight moment of this week to me. But otherwise, this week’s two episodes felt almost like they were two different shows. The former was more like a classic thriller centred on a field investigation, while the latter was more of that tense politicking.

Lee: It felt so jarring when we suddenly cut back to the Council. I got whiplash, to be honest, and was even judging the writer. But then Shi-mok had his breakdown and I realised that we were supposed to feel that whiplash. It’s the same whiplash he has. That sudden jarring feeling of disbelief—are we really sitting here arguing legislative procedure when Dong-jae is still missing?

Yunah: It’s just funny and sad that one of the ways to divert attention from the Dong-jae case was to call forth a second, pretty useless, council meeting, and ply Yeo-jin and Shi-mok with some totally unrelated, not so pressing busy-work.

Anisa: And yet such a fitting metaphor for the way that all this performative sitting down at tables and arguing will change nothing. Everything that happens in that conference room is just theatre. The real forces moving things are developments in the investigation, political appointments, personal connections, scandals and dirt they’re digging up on each other, etc.

Yunah: It’s been awhile since we heard from Yeon-jae and her right hand, and it was nice to see that twist at the end where Choi and Woo find themselves at a meeting with Yeon-jae instead of Lawyer Oh. Wonder what she’s got up her sleeve…

Lee: Also show leaving me with another excruciating cliffhanger. All this wrangling and spycraft and manoeuvring and they finally all get in a room and Hanjo says, “So what did you cover up?” and our dark doppelgangers say, “We were hoping you could tell us!”

Saya: Yes! I’m finally excited about the Hanjo storyline, which has probably been the most disparate element of the show to me, with my Season 1 amnesia.

Yunah: Every week, I anticipate some answers, breadcrumbs, anything! And I never get them, and I kind of love it, but also, the cliffhangers leave me wanting more, more, more…now! Not the following week!

Lee: My weekly mantra.

Anisa: Although at least we got to see Dong-jae’s breathing face this week. The fact that he’s bloodied but alive will keep me going until Saturday, even if I’m just as frustrated as our dynamic duo at the lack of progress in the investigation. And speaking of clues, my number one suspect is now Director Park. Now that we know more about Park Kwang-soo’s shady connections to Hanjo, it makes total sense that if Dong-jae brought up the lawyer to Yeon-jae, Director Park (whom we already know has her office bugged) would immediately jump on damage control. Probably while keeping Yeon-jae in the dark.

Lee: I knew I shouldn’t speculate last week. This is the egg. On my face. I still can’t explain why they kept him alive though. But Director Park is shaping up to be the new best suspect.

Yunah: “What’s Wrong With Director Park?” Answer: Everything.

Anisa: You know, that cracks me up even more because Yeon-jae’s office reminds me a lot of Park Seo-joon’s in that drama 😂

Yunah: Hahahaha! Guess all chaebol offices have that look.

Saya: Seriously though, I went into this week—for the first time in my life!—ready for the Episode 12 Crisis.

Yunah: But we didn’t get said crisis 😭

Anisa: More of a deep breath before the plunge? I’m sure Woo and Choi are going to do something awful to split up Shi-mok and Yeo-jin, like angry chaebol parents who don’t like their kid’s significant other. And I have a feeling things are about to get a whole lot uglier.

Yunah: I have a feeling that plunge is going to knock the wind out of us, so I’m going to brace myself until next week.

Saya: I’m really interested in the argument that they’re having (in that irrelevant meeting) about methodology, and where Shi-mok makes the very reasonable argument which is essentially for due process. But they ignore the whole question of who watches the watcher, which I kind of want the writing to address more deeply.

Lee: They both have good points, Saya, I think that’s part of the problem. But also from Woo Tae-ha’s perspective, Shi-mok derailed their plan to paint the police in a negative light and then tried to come up with a genuine compromise and they don’t want to make things better. They just want things to stay the same.

Anisa: I think that’s what makes these meetings so difficult to watch, and why poor Shi-mok is about to implode from the stress he doesn’t actually realise he’s under. He’s the only one who is sincerely trying to bring solutions to the table that will actually make the process more ethical and efficient. The higher-ups are playing politics and semantics, and even Yeo-jin has enough noonchi to hold certain things back “until later” to avoid escalating the tension. It kind of killed me when he gently reminded her that she didn’t used to be someone who postponed things for later.

Lee: And honestly the acting in that scene was so on point because I could see Shi-mok getting visibly agitated but then when he spoke he sounded like himself so I thought I imagined it. And then he breaks down and it turns out his agitation was real. And yet he was still trying to approach the situation logically. The Segok police case shows exactly what a good prosecutor can do if they do their job properly.

Yunah: Agreed. I hate “both sides”-ing, but I really did understand both viewpoints. A “police state” opens another can of worms, and that checks and balances system is necessary. That meeting made me think of the state of affairs in the U.S. where unions shield police from accountability and enable more abuse of power.

Saya: I have to agree, it does feel like in many ways the argument is necessarily only philosophical. Until S. Korea in real life figures out how to answer that? But let me also take the opportunity to recommend Ahn Gil-ho’s last drama, Watcher. *slides rec smoothly in like she hasn’t been trying to do that since week 1*

Anisa: So far we’ve been talking mostly about the overarching plot and its progression, but I want to point out a few EXCELLENT character moments here. Firstly, Choi almost telling Yeo-jin to thank Shi-mok, but catching herself and saying “good job” instead, because one has to put him in his place. 🙄

Saya: And then Yeo-jin passes it on anyway! In its full form!

Yunah: Love that honest Yeo-jin!

Lee: Kim Sa-hyun calling Shi-mok “Prosecutor Hwang” in the meeting with Tae-ha and then addressing him as “Hwang Shi-mok” when he took him to explain why Daddy was mad at him.

Yunah: LOL. Grumpypants Daddy Woo.

Anisa: And we got some very interesting beats from the Hanjo crew, who have been scarce lately, in Episode 12. Yeon-jae’s casual “I’ve been listening to men bluff all my life, I can tell”—HA! And Director Park’s fascinating, almost disdainful way of handling the cash in the vault. As though he either has so much money already that he finds it vulgar and irrelevant, or that he’s doing this for something other than money. I couldn’t decide which, but he had none of that panting greed we often see when characters are alone with bundles of cash.

Yunah: Director Park practically flung that loose bundle of Sejongs like it was Monopoly money. But I guess, when there’s a giant stack of Saimdangs right next to it, it’s pennies. The last memorable money stack scene for me was in Breaking Bad. It was nice to see the money stack in Korean won this time.

Lee: He’s crazy about her, that’s why. Completely head-over-heels bananapants in love. Would do anything for her—even kidnap a prosecutor maybe. But the response he had to the money was almost distasteful.

Saya: Wait, is that the theory now? Bananapants in love?!

Anisa: I…did not get that impression. If anything, his creepy behaviour reads a bit like obsession to me, but I guess we’ll find out. I kinda want our Weasel to wipe his blood off with that money and throw it in Director Park’s face? But this is still me assuming he’s the culprit.

Yunah: Mo’ money, mo’ problems. And I can’t wait for mo’ next week!

#review #JoSeungwoo #ForestofSecrets2 #dramareview #JeonHyejin #stranger2 #BaeDoona

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