Signal Season 1 Review – An intense and shockingly good crime thriller

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Episode 9
Episode 10
Episode 11
Episode 12
Episode 13
Episode 14
Episode 15
Episode 16

 

When it comes to classic, must-watch K-dramas, they don’t get much bigger than Signal. Released back in 2016, this thriller won the Baeksang Award for best TV drama – and it’s easy to see why. On the surface, it would be easy to write this off as just another time travel drama but in reality, Signal simply uses its time travel to dive much deeper into crime thriller territory, blending excellent writing and absorbing characters with an ambitiously epic string of cases.

The story starts simple enough, as we follow criminal profiler Park Hae-young, who’s tasked with solving a kidnapping case involving a culprit who has disappeared after the crime. In order to get to the bottom of things, Hae-young inexplicably begins communicating with an officer from the past called Lee Jae-han, thanks to finding a mysterious old walkie talkie. As a result, the pair end up working together in the different time periods to solve the case.

As a result of this successful case, the police set up a long-term cold case team, led by Detective Cha Soo-hyun who has searched for her long-lost mentor, Lee Jae-han, for over the past 15 years.

What ensues from here are a number of different cases organically stitched together as Soo-hyun starts to suspect her partner, Hae-young, is not being completely forthright with her regarding this walkie talkie. However, there are consequences for messing with the past, which our characters find out first-hand.

To give much more away about the series would be a disservice but Signal is an example of how to take a very simple concept and absolutely run with it in a way that makes this feel like a wholly fresh and original spin on the genre. The cases themselves are largely inspired or based on real-life criminal incidents, adding an air of authenticity, while the way these cases spill into the next is really cleverly done.

At one point, we learn powerful men are behind a string of bad errors regarding the construction of a bridge. This links back to a company which the next case, involving a bunch of delinquent kids, all have connections to in one way or another. These sort of loose connections help to make this series flow from one investigation to the next.

Much has been said about the ending and while I’m not about to spoil that here, it is worth pointing out that it’s ambiguous and open to interpretation. Personally, I think it suits the show well but there will undoubtedly be some that are left disappointed. However, don’t let that sour the overall experience because Signal is like no other. It’s a sharp, well-written and insightful thriller that maintains an air of excellence throughout its 16 episodes.

Time travel is a tricky concept to get right and for the most part, Signal doesn’t fall into the trap of ending in contrivances and plot holes. Instead, it manages to answer most of the questions one would have about this mechanic in a simple and concise way, very clearly laying out the groundwork for how communication with the past works (a few minutes at random intervals at 11.23pm) while the consequences for messing with the past are also explored. This makes the idea of solving these cases that much more unpredictable, and it benefits Signal tremendously.

The acting throughout is fantastic and the two time periods, as we jump between the past and the present, are really well presented. The screen is “stretched” to accommodate the past timeline, mirroring old upscaled VHS tapes, while the editing is fantastic across the board, especially as tension is racketed and the scene flits freely between both time periods, sometimes in a matter of seconds, or even with split screen shots to capture both Jae-han and Hae-young’s reaction to events.

Signal is a worthy Baeksang Award winner and after watching all 16 episodes, it’s easy to see why this show is so well regarded. It’s ending is a definite point of contention but beyond that, this is a well written, utterly gripping and enthralling crime thriller, and a must-watch for anyone, whether you’re a K-drama fan or not.


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  • Verdict - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
9.5/10

1 thought on “Signal Season 1 Review – An intense and shockingly good crime thriller”

  1. I so want Season 2!!!
    Can someone please tell the wroter to make one. So far the best crime series I’ve watched so far!

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