Stranger 2: Episodes 13-14 Review

It’s not finale week, but why does it already feel like it is? WE HAVE ONE MORE WEEK. A week we badly, desperately need after everything this week has dealt us—the biggest of which has been answers, so many answers. And of course therefore, even bigger questions. This show has never felt like it was spinning its wheels, but last week was definitely a bit quieter as it gathered up its skirts to leap into the final act.

Now with its pockets bursting with plot-threads that need tying up, we’re hurtling deeper into corruption, conspiracy, and some truly heartaching moments of camaraderie.

 

Saya: He’s alive 😭😭😭😭

Anisa: URI DONG-JAAAAAE 😭

Yunah: OUR BELOVED WEASEL IS ALIVE!!!! My heart hasn’t known that level of anxiety in a loooong time. Thanks for that, Episode 14!

Lee: ARRRGHHH, live-watching is killing me. This episode was a cracker. And yes our weasel returns to us unconscious but alive.

Anisa: I wanted to believe he was still alive, but I also felt like it was time for someone in the primary cast to die à la Eun-soo. I didn’t trust this show to go easy on us, because it never does.

Yunah: Exactly. Eun-soo’s death was fresh on our minds. Shi-mok mentioned her in Episode 13 DURING LUNCH in which he actually ATE, CHEWED, AND SWALLOWED food in peace, with his partner in crime, no less :)! Also, I’m sorry, but if some punk threw Dong-jae’s body over a mountain, I wouldn’t hold my breath 😭

Saya: Watching him eat so heartily might have been the episode’s most emotionally overflowing moment for me 😂

Lee: I had wondered if Dong-jae’s hoobae reminded Shi-mok of Eun-soo and it turns out she did. I don’t know how he does it with that ostensibly blank face but I could see him worrying about her investigating the case herself. Did you bring this to your senior? Does he know what you’re doing?

Anisa: Anyone who thinks Shi-mok can’t feel should not investigate anything for a living. Touchingly, he finally revealed what we’ve wondered about since last season: whether he felt guilty about Eun-soo’s death. It’s clearly been weighing on him since then. And I love how Yeo-jin was totally unsurprised by this show of emotion, and simply sat there and felt it with him. That and Shi-mok EXPLODING IN ANGER at the murderer. I cheered.

Saya: You know what was great about the latest episode is that BOTH of them crack and lose their cool. Has Yeo-jin ever raised her voice? And Shi-mok! All his feelings all erupting out of him!

Lee: We’ve seen Shi-mok’s rising agitation through the last two episodes and it finally boiled over—in a Shi-mok way of course.

Yunah: God, I love seeing them lose their cool, especially since everyone else’s reactions have been so tepid…for reasons we now know!

I always felt that Chief Woo and Kim Sa-hyun seemed way too at ease for people who’ve just lost one of their own. Now I know that a missing/even dead Dong-jae was preferable to them, a sacrificial lamb to hold onto their authority and pin something on the police. So. Shady! Chief Kang’s reaction made the most sense, and it was telling—he was the only one that seemed relieved and concerned!

Anisa: Yes and Sa-hyun (and Chief Woo?) had no compunction planting evidence that would derail the investigation and delay Dong-jae’s rescue, because they’re better off if he’s dead. It hurt my heart that the catalyst for Dongjae’s kidnapping was ironically his turning over a new leaf and actually being a conscientious prosecutor of school bullying cases.

Yunah: So unfortunate. So cold.

Lee: If Kim Sa-hyun really did fake that evidence—and it looks like he did—then he is guilty of serious obstruction of justice. And just as I was starting to not hate him.

Saya: Now that I think about it, in terms of genre-savvy, it makes sense that we were deliberately lulled into a (most likely) false sense of security about Kim Sa-hyun, whom first we hated and then we loved and now we suspect.

Anisa: As we noted last week, as charming as Sa-hyun can be, he also has no problem using his institutional power to maintain status. But the clues were all there. I remember being struck in Episode 1 by the camera’s focus on Hu-jeong’s fingers clenching the blanket around him as he cried over his dead friends, wondering how it would be significant later. And as Yeo-jin said (and Choi Bit refused to own up to), the expensive sneakers should have been a clue.

Saya: I did not think the Tongyeong case was going to make a reappearance—done and dusted right? The lead-in to the real plot. But look how it all came back around. So I’m absolutely not ready to let anyone off the hook, even yet. We’ve got one culprit, but this is just the start.

Yunah: Bless you, Lee Soo-yeon writer-nim! Anisa, I love that the clues were all there, and it wasn’t just a case of, “Aha! Here’s a new wrench!”

Lee: I did think it was weird that there was only one set of shoes on the beach and that they were sparkly and clean. But I guess the audience is like Shi-mok—trying to work out what’s important and what isn’t important. And yes, bless our brilliant writer-nim. She is a genius at putting us in our protagonist’s head space. And at letting us speculate and get egg all over our faces.

Yunah: I stopped speculating after Forest of Secrets 1. I prefer to eat my eggs. Over easy 🙂 or scrambled, please.

Lee: Very smart of you. I’ll have mine poached.

Anisa: The show is so smart that you always second-guess yourself! Am I noticing this because it’s important, or is it a deliberate red herring?

Saya: I always noticed those moments, too! But as time passed, I forgot about them. It’s the first rule of the best thrillers: no detail is meaningless (even if it’s a misdirect).

Yunah: This season in particular seemed to have a TON of red herrings, but I get the feeling that there’s going to be some bigger thing that’s going to somehow connect all the cases together.

Anisa: I have this same feeling.

Lee: There was so much going on in these two episodes I almost don’t know what to focus on. But I think the season as a whole is shaping up as a discussion of all the small and understandable ways that people get compromised. And so Chief Prosecutor Kang’s dilemma really resonated with me. I’m not sure what I’d decide in his situation either.

Anisa: I understand how Kang felt, having the criminal he’s been after for so long finally in his grasp, and of course it’s all complicated by Yeon-jae being his dead sunbae’s wife and Lee Sung-jae’s smear campaign against Kang’s favourite boi Shi-mok. But at the same time I was rooting so hard for him not to get pulled into these power games. I wanted him to go meet Shi-mok and return to his senses.

Saya: And isn’t that how most people cross that line that leads them to the dark side? Which said, I agree, I also don’t know what I’d choose. Which I think is the point—that they’re constantly called on to make impossible choices and, well, they do. And nothing they choose is going to be a right choice.

Lee: Also Hanjo Engineering IS committing fraud. He didn’t make it up or plant evidence. A crime has been committed. But all of a sudden he has to consider this wider context of supporting one person over another in a power struggle and it’s about more than whether a crime happened. It shows that what can seem like prosecutorial corruption is just…this. The complications of trying to do your job in an environment that is not a vacuum.

Yunah: There’s so much to unpack from this batch of episodes, but I just want to highlight some really stunning performances from our young actors, who yes, both played punks lol. Ryu Sung-rok, who plays Jeon Gi-hyuk, the false witness that was trying real hard not to let the nerves get to him, but Shi-mok staring you down and seeing all your BS is quite intimidating. I loved the shots of his clasped hands, trembling ever so slightly, and the twitching of his face, all of which Shi-mok noticed, too. I loved, LOVED that little slip of the tongue at the very end wherein both Shi-mok and he knew that it was all over.

Anisa: Agreed. The two actors played beautifully off each other and it was so tense. (And although Jo Seung-woo’s been incredible with the subtle acting so far, it was great to see him stretch a bit this week as Shi-mok got shouty and sad.)

Saya: One of the things I found so fascinating was watching the sunbae-network at work, when Kim Sa-hyun and Chief Woo are running through a mental telephone-tree of all their prosecution pals, figuring out who has seniority over whom, so that they can counteract another act of cronyism. The calculation, the manoeuvring, it’s so damn complex and you really understand just how…essential the system is. In the sense of being a thing that necessarily exists—invisibly—alongside and intertwined with the official system. Like, you could no more uproot this than you could tear apart the vascular system from the nervous. They’re different animals, but they exist and operate, inseparably and in concert, from within the same place, if not always to the same end.

Yunah: I loved watching that telephone tree. “Who do you know, who’s older, which class was he in, and can we possibly ask him to scratch our back?” It’s so unabashed and so routine.

Lee: From the minute the father walked into the room and tried to pull seniority on Shi-mok and then all that manoeuvring around it. This is a kind of cronyism but it’s emblematic of the way in which the prosecution is an elite closed club. One ironically that Dong-jae wanted so desperately to break into but never could despite being a prosecutor himself. And Yeo-jin finally yelling, “You’re his sunbae, not mine!” at the father.

Yunah: That was SUCH a delicious moment. I may have thrust my fist into the air!

Anisa: This is one of the main things I wanted to talk about this week. At every level, there was an overwhelming display of cronyism, of networks and seniority and the leveraging of personal, social power that completely distorts any pre-existing protocols designed to prevent corruption. And that just brilliantly explodes the entire premise of this second season, doesn’t it? What does it matter whether the police or the prosecution has investigative rights, if no one follows the established system of checks and balances anyway?

It’s such a smart way of exposing that the real way corruption endures is due to these deeply embedded relationships of power and indebtedness, so that even when people technically move outside the structure of the prosecutor’s office or police service, these networks continue to exert undue influence. And that’s the web that it’s so painful to watch Chief Prosecutor Kang get entangled in, because we do have so much affection for him, and he’s always been one of the sincere ones.

Lee: And that hierarchical system was very much embedded in our teen kidnapper’s situation. He couldn’t escape his chingus. He even asked for help and didn’t get it. And talk about a human crime. This was an immensely human crime. Who knew the reason Dong-jae’s kidnapping made no sense was because it was done by a panicked kid who didn’t know what to do after he’d attacked him.

Saya: Another thing that this week explored fantastically. I mean, the show’s general throughline has always been putting humanness—human error, human misjudgement, human fallibility—at the nexus of every plotline and arc, yet it still gets me every single time just how mundanely it all begins. One small misstep, one left turn. And then another. And then all the left turns add up into a misshapen morality hexagon of multidimensional stature and we are all screwed.

Lee: I don’t remember who coined the term ‘the banality of evil’ but I feel this is something that Korea does particularly well and that underpins everything in this show. SKY Castle did this too, and really powerfully. For all the wealth, influence and self-importance, their evil was banal. Almost every crime this season is mundane. That’s a good way of putting it, Saya.

Anisa: It was Hannah Arendt, in her writing about the Holocaust. How easily people can fall into following the most grotesque of orders, how normal even the most horrifying acts can become for those committing them. How easily certain lives can be dehumanised and discarded.

Yunah: Lee, yes! Evil has many faces. And yes, Anisa. I think all of us know a Jakob Schmid, a university janitor, an everyday person, who turned in Sophie Scholl to the Gestapo and was “just doing his job” and “following the rules.”

Anisa: And in the case of Hu-jeong, the humanity and the tragedy is that he went from being the oppressed victim, to committing murder in revenge, to deciding that Dong-jae’s life was basically worth nothing in the face of his own imminent exposure. Dong-jae, who was fighting to bring bullies like the ones who made Hu-jeong’s life hell to some kind of justice.

Saya: Well there’s the other old adage, isn’t there? “No good deed goes unpunished.” 😭

Yunah: Literally. 😭

Saya: We had some great light moments though, too, didn’t we? By “light moments”, I mean they happened for two seconds during something else incredibly dire. Obviously.

Anisa: I think Min-ha calling Shi-mok old was my favourite. I laughed out loud when she said he must have gone to school decades before her.

Yunah: Hahaha!

Saya: Or how Yeon-jae practically scoffs in Chief Woo’s face when he explains his whole “I’m in control of Hwang Shi-mok” angle.

Lee: I kind of love her. Her whole face when Chief Woo said that he could stop Shi-mok investigating was a picture.

Yunah: NO ONE CONTROLS SHI-MOK! I loved how Yeon-jae ended the meeting by turning to her phone, no goodbyes exchanged, lol. You can see yourself out.

Anisa: Yeon-jae’s entire vibe in that opening scene was such a power move. I definitely know that she’s very morally gray, but I’m rooting for her anyway because she is a smart woman who owns her power, and doesn’t get taken in by anyone’s BS.

Lee: Finally, how shady are Choi Bit and Woo Tae-ha?

Yunah: Too shady. I think for now, Chief Woo one-ups Choi Bit on the shadiness.

Lee: Definitely. And there were parts of this episode where Choi Bit looked positively exhausted…she’s still a liar though.

Saya: Oh man, one of my favourite moments was Choi Bit trying to one-up Yeo-jin with her “I can have prosecutor intel too!!!1” 🤣 I swear she is jealous of Yeo-jin and Shi-mok’s closeness—and trust. She might have that closeness with Chief Woo, but never trust, not Yeo-jin and Shi-mok’s kind.

Lee: Oh, the impression I got was that she’s worried it’s a threat and she was hoping she could reduce it to a flirtation. Because if Yeo-jin fancies him then it’s less likely they’re going to be digging into the Hanjo incident.

Anisa: Yeah. She was framing it as a crush—and interestingly, as one Yeo-jin is more invested in—to both dig for information and try to devalue their friendship, and thus sow discord in their super solid bond.

Saya: Noooo I want her to be petty! Oh no wait, you guys are talking about a bit later. I’m talking about when Choi is flouncing around saying what, you don’t think I have my own prosecutor peeps?

Yunah: I’ve noticed some really cool directorial choices being made now that we’re nearing the end. Fancy chase sequences that were probably shot via drone—I’m being reminded of all the action from Season 1; there was way more of it then. This season was definitely more of a slow burn, but the stylistic choices were worth the wait and make sense. Gee Yunah, you don’t have any bones to pick ever when it comes to a Lee Soo-yeon work, huh?

Anisa: I agree! I’ve complained that so far this season has felt competent but plainer than Season 1 in its direction, but I also felt that Director Park Hyun-suk really stepped it up this week.

Lee: I love the way this director frames shots and the way he uses depth of field but this swooshing in over the rooftops as they chased the perp was new. I loved it. You can think you’ve escaped Shi-mok and Yeo-jin but you are wrong. Something for Kim Sa-hyun to remember.

Anisa: Both Sa-hyun and Chief Woo are going to have a rude awakening when it comes to Shi-mok. That kitten you thought you were housetraining is a tiger, and he’s about to rip out your metaphorical throats.

Yunah: RAWR! 🐯

Saya: Before we wrap up, I have one last tiny thing I want to squee over, that will tide me over to next week: did you notice when Shi-mok put his hand on Yeo-jin’s arm? Such a tiny moment BUT IT MEANT SO MUCH. Never mind kittens and tigers, our baby-bear became mama-bear. The comforted became the comforter. Thus the world was created. 😭

Yunah: YOU BET I NOTICED!

Anisa: YES! I’ve been waiting for a chance to mention it!! And it made me reflect that the one thing I want to see in finale week—apart from Dong-jae breathing and smiling—is Shi-mok and Yeo-jin saying in words, to each other’s faces, what they mean to each other. Not a romantic confession, because that’s not their deal (although I would DIE if that happened) but an explicit acknowledgment of the fact that they’re best friends, that they need each other, that they’re partners. Is work-spouse the appropriate term here? Is that term gross? I feel like it’s okay when neither is actually married to someone else.

Yunah: Oof, the mention of finale week is making me sad already! Say it ain’t so! I think I was against a Season 2 of Stranger because of, you know, the Season 2 curse, but I’m just going to put it into the universe now. I would like 3, 4, and 5, too. Also, Jo Seung-woo was the one who suggested 5 so, just sayin’…it’s not just me.

Lee: Me too. I am going to miss this extraordinary show. I’ve loved every minute of it and watching this cast and crew bring it all together for the finale is every bit as satisfying as I thought it would be. I was also nervous that a second season would fall flat like so many have before. But in the final estimation this is—in my humble opinion—shaping up to be even better than Season 1.

Anisa: Don’t jinx the ending, Lee! 😂 But you’re right, in that Stranger pulled off what I thought was impossible—a K-drama second season that isn’t just decent, but GREAT.

Saya: It’s not over yet, guys! We still have one more week! (Though God knows how we’re going to write up next week, through the ugly-crying and brain-breaking.)

Lee: I can’t wait.I mean that literally. I CANNOT wait. I’m dying here.

Yunah: Next week will just consist of me entering lots of !!!!!!!!, and you guys pleading with me for coherence.

Lee: You mean you’re expecting coherence next week? Oh dear…

Anisa: Never. But I will bring an entire box of tissues.

Saya: Meet you at the Pojangmacha of Sorrows, friends…

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

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