As we reach our halfway point, teammates are losing faith in each other, the lines of loyalty and authority continue to get more tangled, lies and truth mingle, and most importantly: time is running out in the search for our missing prosecutor. But who was really behind his disappearance? And will Shi-mok, Yeo-jin and their allies be able to find him before it’s too late?
Saya: We have so many things to wail about dissect this week, but first, we’ve got a returning guest to welcome to our forest of secrets! She warned me that she has controversial opinions, and do we still want her, and the answer is emphatically yes. Hi Anja! Can you introduce yourself for our readers who might not have met you before?
Anja: Hi Saya! Thanks for allowing me to voice my controversial opinions 😂. I’m a crime fiction writer (and huge K-drama fan) and probably because I have written a series of novels, I’m always on the lookout for what I call ‘Season 2’ issues. Which is probably why I’m more critical than some other people.
Anisa: Welcome, Anja! I’m very interested to hear your spicy and, I’m sure, very smart takes. Don’t let our rabid fangirlism for this show scare you away. 😉
Yunah: Where to begin with this batch of episodes?! Let’s just say I’m on edge. If our beloved weasel doesn’t make it out alive…*starts chewing nails to the nubs*
Saya: I can honestly say I have no idea what is going on at least 50% of the time… but also I am here for it? And I do not for a moment think Weasel is dead.
Anisa: But how can he possibly be alive after that brutal, bloody bludgeoning we saw? And why can’t I get a Lee Joon-hyuk drama where he is neither mutilated nor murdered?! Please go back to rom-coms, Oppa, so I can stop dramatically abusing alliterations!
Anja: Part of me would still like Weasel to have staged his own disappearance but I can’t figure out how that would have worked. Still, imagining him hitting himself with a brick made me laugh.
Yunah: Did he whack his own self with a brick?! OUCH! But I guess desperate times…
Anja: Maybe he hit his own shin with the brick. Not his head, I’m sure.
Saya: But he can’t gag or tie himself up… though I guess he could have an accomplice. But it doesn’t feel staged? I mean, he practically had a halo last week, if that isn’t the biggest giveaway ever. How can one be genre-savvy and yet still never see this coming? 😭
Anja: That brutal bludgeoning and our short view of the outside of the cupboard Weasel was in made me very suspicious of Choi Bit’s laundry room. Incorrectly, it turned out.
Yunah: Even though I’m barely processing everything that’s being thrown at me, I’m still searching for “clues” although I’m well aware it’s a futile endeavour. 😅
Saya: I was immediately suspicious of Prosecutor Kim Sa-hyun coming in late and all mussed up, but then… did he have a really kind of sweet bro-talk with Shi-mok? I really loved that scene.
Anisa: He kinda did! And me too. I’m not hating him as much as I did at first and as much, it turns out, as I hate Woo Tae-ha. But also, after Yoon last season I suspect EVERYONE. And so does everybody who was on that team two years ago, which is becoming increasingly clear as lines of authority cross and tangle, and the former teammates we’ve expected to reunite like the Avengers are instead eyeing each other with unease and suspicion.
Yunah: Exactly. No one’s truly as they seem. Suspect everyone! Except maybe our Shi-yeo duo? Mokjin? HwangHan? I’m seeing ‘HwangHan’ on Twitter!
Anisa: Shi-jin! Though Twitter usually wins.
Saya: I wouldn’t say no to Yeo-shi…
Anja: My favourite moment was when Woo Tae-ha and Choi Bit were sharing a drink, and I was…. like what???? They know each other??
Saya: YES. I mean, I was super confused but also what a great “reveal”—of course they know each other. It’s that thing—people in the same field might be batting for different sides, but in most ways, they’re on the same team, even if they occasionally wear different uniforms. And also all of those encounters that drip with subtext and hidden meanings. What were they involved in together before? What “guilt” is Choi Bit shouldering for everyone? WHAT IS HAPPENING.
Anisa: Yeah, on one hand, no surprise that the two new and super shady people ended up being in on it together—and it works thematically—but on the other, that doesn’t stop it from being a delicious reveal.
Anja: I have to admit though (this is my controversial opinion coming through) that even though I loved that moment, it also made my ‘coincidence radar’ go off. What are the chances of Shi-mok’s boss and Yeo-jin’s boss having been implicated in something together, involving Hanjo Group?
Anisa: I know what you mean. Not so much perhaps these two high-ranking officials being involved in the same incident, because as Saya said, once you get to a certain level the inner circle is pretty small, and everyone is actually in on it for mutual benefit despite whatever sides they take publicly. But Hanjo being implicated too is a tiny bit much. Although I can’t complain about anything that gives Yoon Se-ah more screentime.
Yunah: I think one of my favorite scenes was from Episode 7: the conversation between Chief Kang and Shi-mok, and Shi-mok realizing that he must’ve been a bother, a thorn in his and others’ sides all this time by simply doing what’s just—a Sysiphean endeavor apparently!—amidst a morass of corruption. That doing the right thing is perceived as a nuisance.
Anja: Yunah, I also like those scenes about doing the right thing, it’s building on last week’s theme about trying to do the right thing but you might have to call in a favour and then you’re obliged to help someone out in return later.
Saya: There’s something about Shi-mok’s reactions and lost-boy face that are so childlike that it makes you hurt a little for him. Also: the return of his headaches! I was wondering if they’d ditched that whole aspect of his condition, which admittedly I forgot about until I started rewatching Season 1, which pretty much opens with it.
Yunah: OMG the return of the headaches! I’m rewatching Season 1 as we speak, and they were definitely a recurring thing.
Anja: That’s absolutely what I mean by Season 2 issues: the headaches suddenly return out of nowhere, he’s driving a car again, there’s no explanation of his emotion-removal surgery (apart from a tiny moment at the start of the first episode). I feel for people who haven’t watched the first season and have no idea what’s going on with him.
Yunah: Maybe my glasses are a bit too rose-tinted for anything by Lee Soo-yeon, but I wasn’t bothered by the return of the headaches, and I didn’t really put that much weight into his condition in Season 1 since in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that significant.
Saya: You don’t find it really integral to the nature of his character?
Yunah: I was thinking that perhaps the doctors got it all wrong in Season 1. That maybe a misdiagnosis contributed to a lifelong misunderstanding of himself, his actions, and his behavior. Shi-mok has emotions—he just struggles with expressing them. Kind of like Do Hyun-soo in Flower of Evil.
Anja: Without the surgery (or whatever made him emotionless), the way he acts makes no sense. Without his loss of emotions, he would behave completely differently. They could have made him emotionless for different reasons, but that he is—or hardly has emotions—is the core reason of who he is as a character.
Anisa: I always felt like the headache/brain surgery stuff was the only part of this show that really required suspension of disbelief, but I’ve been on board with hand-waving that since the beginning, because it gave us so many rich character moments. If we think about it in superhero terms, that surgery is kind of Shi-mok’s origin story. Nonsensical and more magic than science, but we take it on faith because it gives him his special powers. And I agree with Yunah that he does have emotions, but there’s a way in which he’s unable to access them. They’re only visible to close observers like Yeo-jin (and the audience), and even Chief Kang.
Yunah: Agreed, Anisa! I can very easily suspend disbelief in this department. Happily, too!
Saya: I actually really like it as a conceit, but I admit that I feel it’s a bit inconsistent at times, and it’s not entirely sciencey. But I agree, I’m good to suspend the disbelief because I like where it takes him as a character, and it allows the story to proceed in less expected ways. Otherwise what separates Shi-mok from any other stiff-backed prosecutor?
Anja: I guess my point is, that if that’s how the character is created, it would be kind to clue in viewers new to the drama lol. And I’m sure there will be plenty of people who start with the new season.
Anisa: That’s true. The drama is so dense with detail that even though there is some recap of season 1 built into the story, it seems meant primarily for an audience that obsessively watched and loved Season 1.
Anja: I have to admit to not remembering everything from Season 1 even though I loved it. There’s that scene with Yeon-jae and the newspaper guy, and I thought: oh yes, I remember they were so cute together… and then I realised that I was mixing it up with the same two actors in Just Between Lovers and I have no memory of the two of them together in season 1.
Anisa: HA, that’s right, that’s what I remember them as a couple from! They were adorable. JBL is such a gem.
Saya: Can we speculate now? By which I mean, please tell me what is going on 😂 How many cases are we looking into right now? The Segok police officer maybe-murder-maybe-suicide, the dead lawyer that’s connected to Choi Bit, Woo Tae-ha and Hanjo somehow, Dong-jae’s disappearance…OH ALSO MY OTHER SUSPECT FOR DONG-JAE’S KIDNAPPING—and this one is legit—is Yeon-jae’s right-hand man, Secretary Park (played by Jung Sung-il, and who I keep calling Baek Seung-jae because of 9.9 Billion Won Woman ❤️).
Anja: Seeing as we’re at Episode 8, I would guess that whoever we think did it right now is going to be totally innocent.
Yunah: My mind is reeling at the moment. There are so many characters I’m suspicious of, but I can’t really pick any one person with confidence just yet. I even suspect Prosecutor Min-ha who trained under Dong-jae.
Anja: Was she in that restaurant with him? I couldn’t really make that out from the CCTV footage.
Yunah: Yes, that was her in the restaurant!
Saya: Same! She went right onto my ever-growing suspects list, too.
Anisa: I’m also suddenly suspicious, now that we’ve seen that they had lunch together the day of. Though that’s likely a red herring… but Season 1 made me even suspect Shi-mok and Yeo-jin and I can feel that paranoia coming on again 😂
Anja: My current theory is that he’s having an affair with her and that was what his wife was alluding to when she told Shi-mok that he should check what her husband ‘was up to’ instead of asking her if she was cheating. (See how I’m still using the present tense to talk about Weasel? Clearly not going to accept that he’s possibly dead)
Yunah: (Love the use of present tense. It’s easing my anxiety!) Yeah, I also suspected a possible affair between the two. Plus, just as Shi-mok noticed, I don’t really see marital bliss when I picture Dong-jae and his wife together.
Saya: Is it weird that I don’t really see him as someone having an affair? At least not right now. Though it could explain Min-ha’s fervour to save him. But you could feel equally strongly about a sunbae without any romance attached to it. (Min-ha also reminded me of Shin Hye-sun’s character—not in personality, but in the role she seems to have taken on.)
Anisa: Definitely agree on the Shin Hye-sun vibe! 😢
Yunah: Dong-jae in Season 1 was depicted as kind of a sleazeball that hit up room salons so I think an affair with a colleague isn’t totally out of the question for him. Plus, he’s sleeping at the office! Also, he’s a dude. Men are weak.
Saya: 😂 Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s pure as the driven snow… he just seems too busy for an affair, and without the emotional space for it when he needs to climb, climb, climb, and stay in Seoul for the kids.
Anja: Having an affair with someone in the office would be quite convenient I guess.
Saya: I have a question about the scene between Yeon-jae and Secretary Park: what was that conversation she had with him after Shi-mok left about?
Anisa: Basically, he made up an excuse that he was trying to use Dong-jae to curry favor at the Seoul Eastern Prosecutor’s Office for their tax evasion lawsuit so that they wouldn’t have to tell Shi-mok the real reason he talked to Dong-jae the day of his disappearance. But Yeon-jae pointed out that Park just slandered Dong-jae to his colleague when he’s likely never going to be able to refute that claim. (Park is HELLA shady.)
Anja: He’s clearly listening into her conversations and I was wondering if she’d been aware of that. Has he bugged her office or something?
Anisa: I think so, and I don’t think she’d known because her attitude toward him changed after that.
Anja: That made me think he was trying to interrupt something very important, otherwise it was a dumb moment to blow his cover.
Anisa: Park absolutely knows she has a soft spot for her late husband’s mentees, and he’s clearly not loyal to her, or even the company. Who knows who might be pulling his strings.
Anja: Oh I’m sure he’s her father’s mole (or her brother’s). Somehow I feel that it’s much more likely that the chaebols have kidnapped Dong-jae than the police officers. Maybe I have watched too many dramas.
Saya: I feel dumb for thinking (last week), aw he’s so loyal to her! Spoiler: no one is that loyal.
Anja: He seemed so loyal he was clearly dodgy 😂
Yunah: But he’s loyal to whomever he wants! He can shift in loyalty every which way!
nice to see Yeo-jin driving Shi-mok around again
Anisa: Since we’re talking about loyalty and betrayal—which in fact seems to be a theme this week—I was struck with a lot of contrasts in these two episodes between truth and lies: the conversations that are mired in subterfuge and subtext vs. those that are almost shockingly honest. Lee Soo-yeon excels at dialogue and especially at these contrasts. It came home to me that the conversations between characters who trust each other are that much more powerful for the way they throw light on these political machinations disguised as meetings, and interrogations where people lie with every breath. Like Shi-mok’s conversation with Chief Kang that you mentioned earlier, Yunah, and of course our two protagonists’ every interaction, which always feels like five minutes of oxygen in an episode where I mostly can’t catch my breath.
Yunah: Anisa, that contrast is so stark, and I think those five minutes of oxygen feel so refreshing because every other interaction is just laden with so much we simply are not privy to, but have determined the level of transparency in each relationship.
Anisa: But then you also see those situations where honesty can be a fatal weakness, like Yeo-jin’s continual open conversations with Choi Bit when the woman is clearly SO UNTRUSTWORTHY WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
Yunah: I don’t trust that Shiny Choi. Don’t be fooled by the sheen!
Saya: Then she says things like, “People who mess with things that could cost lives don’t deserve to be treated with respect,” and tells Yeo-jin she most certainly should report her if she goes off the rails like that. So you rein in your mistrust for a little longer, because… I mean, if that’s a lie, it’s BRASSY. But it sounds truthful in the moment, so you want to believe it.
Anisa: She is such a lying liar! But I do find it really interesting that Yeo-jin, for whom this ability to open her heart to people has up until this point been an advantage, is now being taken advantage of instead. And perhaps it’s because of her very different position in administration now rather than the field where her instincts served her so well—a position that fits her about as well as clothes made for someone else, as Shi-mok points out. She’s come alive for the first time since Episode 1 now that she’s officially leading the investigation into Dong-jae’s disappearance.
Anja: I don’t necessarily get the impression that Yeo-jin is being taken advantage of. She checked what was on the USB stick, for example, when they were framing the politician, so I get the sense that she’s not leaving her brain behind. Choi Bit’s veneer was cracking a bit as far as Yeo-jin was concerned.
Anisa: That’s a good point. I also get a sense that Yeo-jin is protective of Choi Bit in a way she’s never been of her other superiors. (I can’t remember now, was it Shi-mok she defended Choi to, or Dong-jae?) Even though she knows she can’t fully trust her, she does give her the full respect that her position demands because she understands exactly what it takes for a woman to ascend that high in their male chauvinist organisation.
Anja: I loved the moment where the prosecutors are interviewing the police chief for the kidnapping and his comeback was: why would I do that? I was cleared from taking bribes. Are you daring to imply that your seniors made a mistake? That was such a great bit of writing—using the power lines as his main defence
Saya: That was a really masterful scene, I’m just amazed at the writing—the words are all saying one thing while the meaning is completely something else, but it’s fully watertight. Anja, as a writer, can you tell us how easy/hard it is to calculate a scene like that? (If that isn’t putting you on the spot!)
Anja: if I had written that scene, I would have probably written that particular line of the police chief’s dialogue first. I would have known how I wanted the chief to get out of the situation and started with that. It would have been my turning point and I like to work up to moments like that. Then I’d work back and write the parts where the prosecutors feel they’re getting the upper hand, to make the comeback hit harder.
Anisa: Ooh I love this glimpse Inside the Writer’s Studio.
Yunah: Because I’m rewatching Season 1 at the moment, the differences between the two seasons are pretty noticeable. I feel like S2 is much more of a slow burn (a very enjoyable one!) compared to S1. The direction, too, was much flashier, and it was well-suited to all the action and investigations that took place. Shi-mok was out and about a lot in S1—he had to clear his name!—and in S2, we have a lot more tension that’s bubbling beneath the surface. Because we’ve reached the midpoint (already!), I think things are going to pick up real fast real soon. I’m. So. Ready!!!!!
Saya: I agree, I think that each season is its own animal, and it would be a mistake to watch S2 hoping for it to be more of S1. It’s been a few years since S1, and without having rewatched it, I don’t feel like S2 suffers in comparison because I’m not comparing. Now we’re at the midpoint (yes, already!), I feel like, despite the many, many open cases floating around, the whole first half has been a deliberate journey to Dong-jae’s kidnapping, and that’s going to be the arrowhead of what will go down in the second-half.
Anja: I once wrote an article for an online writing magazine about How to Write a Series, and told them of the things I did wrong and how to avoid these issues. Stranger is doing some of those same things. For example: don’t reintroduce characters from earlier for just a walk-on cameo (hello Lee Kyu-hyung in prison gear—I cannot remember what you did that was illegal in S1).
Saya: But cameos are fanservice, and fanservice is a Very Important Institution! Though yes, I was also very much, “who are you?” in that scene. But others loved it, so it’s a pretty good “reward” for the most devoted to the series?
Anisa: I mean… pretty sure he did the murder in S1. Though you’re right, it was kinda out of nowhere.
Yunah: Oh yes he definitely did the murder 🤣
Anja: There was no need for that prison scene! It added nothing to this story, so why do it? Some people could watch S2 cold, like it, and then go back to S1 and why would you spoiler your own drama for no reason whatsoever? *rant over*
Yunah: My mom is my Stranger viewing buddy, and she said that even as a Korean and native speaker, she finds this series a complicated watch and wondered how other people can do it. Even the actors struggle with their lines (except maybe Lee Joon-hyuk who makes it look way too easy! Did you see that 8 minute, one-take scene between him and Woo Tae-ha? Flawless, long one-take! Or Jo Seung-woo and Bae Doona teasing him for always complaining that he’s struggling only to nail every single scene?)
Anisa: OMG no, but I am watching it immediately after we finish this. To comfort myself. *cries in coffee*