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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.

Saya: SHI-MOK SMILED, GUYS. HE SMILED. 😭

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.