Stranger (Secret Forest) – Episode 16 Recap & Review

One Final Smile

It’s been a wild ride up until this point and all of it comes down to this. Mentor VS student. Si-Mok VS Chang-Joon. The stakes have never been higher and across 15 tumultuous episodes, we may finally get some justice for those who have lost their lives.

Episode 16 of Stranger begins with Chang-Joon phoning his Father-in-law and asking him if he had anything to do with Eun-Soo’s murder. He scoffs at the notion but sits upright when his son admits the truth. He’s the one whose behind what happened. He’s obviously been recording all this time though and as the call drops, so too does the recording.

Yoon-Beom immediately gets to work and freezes Chang-Joon’s bank accounts. As we soon see from flashbacks, he was instrumental in covering up a lot of the evidence including the infamous sketches of the tattoo drawn by Eun-Soo.

Her immediately summons Chang-Joon to his side but as things start to spiral out of control, Chang-Jun isn’t at the Blue House. Instead, he meets Si-Mok at an abandoned construction site.

After all this time, the duo finally find themselves face to face in the middle of this high-rise. There, Si-Mok hears from Chang-Joon’s mouth that he was the accomplice and part of this entire heinous crime. As they talk, we learn that Hanjoo was not doing well but Chang-Joon had no idea that the company was being used for an illegal transfer of assets. Out of everything he’s done – that’s the one thing he actually regrets.

As he backs up, Si-Mok watches as Chang-Joon chooses the cowardly option and throws himself off the building. Down below, both Dong-Jae and Yeo-Jin can only watch in stunned horror.

As Yeo-Jin heads up to check on Si-Mok, Chang-Joon utters some important last words for Dong-Jae. “Do not follow my path.” It’s an important note because all this time, we’ve seen Dong-Jae out for himself but always willing to be on the winning side.

When Yoon-Beom finds out what’s happened to Chang-Joon, his first priority is keeping the media in check. That comes in the form of a press release. As his assistant leaves, Yoon-Beom calls his son a moron.

With Chang-Joon gone, Si-Mok hands out files at the prosecutor’s office surrounding the illegal deeds Hanjo has been involved in all this time. Alongside Won-Cheol, the duo remain determined for justice to be dealt despite their hesitation in following through with this.

Yeo-Jin heads to the prison and speaks to Yoon about the case. She bitterly resents what he’s done, and even more so because of the trust they all put in him. As Yoon tells her he can now finally breathe, it’s one step too far and she storms out in disgust after mentioning the families he’s stabbed in the back.

He soon gets his repentance though when Soon-Chang arrives and talks to him plainly about what happened. As tears fall from his face, Yoon mutters that he’s sorry for everything that’s happened.

Yoon-Beom tries to swindle the media but Eun-Soo’s father is having none of it. He arrives and spits venomous words at the Chairman, telling him he killed Chang-Joon.

With the arrest warrant granted for Yoon-Beom, an enraged Yeon-Jae shows up at Si-Mok’s office. “You think you’ve won this game?” She says through gritted teeth. As she stares at Si-Mok, she promises to do everything she can to destroy him.

Silently, he hands over the handwritten letter from Chang-Joon found in the bag. Within that is an impassioned cry about corruption and how the Republic Of Korea is collapsing.

With the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, that corruption became unbearable. So much so that he decided to collect evidence over time to put his Father-in-law and those like him in their rightful place. That bag he had on the roof? That’s completely full of evidence collected all that time with numerous recorded conversations, bugs and letters.

Unbeknownst to them, all those shady deals and snooping in the Chairman’s office have been for this one act of cutting the head off the snake. As Chang-Joon mentioned “growing another right arm” earlier in the season, this poetic statement seems to hold more weight now. He’s determined to prevent this happening with Hanjoo. After finishing the letter, Yeon-Jae walks away silently while Si-Mok watches her leave.

In court, former Chief Kim pleads guilty to all charges. Because of his guilt, the court sentence him to 42 months in prison. While he’s taken away, back in the station Yeo-Jin continues to question Ga-Young – whose now recovered fully it seems – but she refuses to play ball.

On the news, Si-Mok fulfills his promise – both actually, the first being solving the case in 2 months and the other returning to the news. The real reason for him being there though is to reveal the truth about Chang-Joon. His sacrifices are the reason they’re able to go after Hanjoo but the blood spilled can’t be forgotten.

Si-Mok certainly hasn’t forgotten. After calling him a monster, he reminds the viewing public that he still killed someone and deluded himself into believing this was the right course of action. As he says the words, Yeo-Jin realizes that his empathetic cry is actually her influence. In fact he’s reciting the same words she used when Kyung-Wan was beaten by police officers inside the prison.

After the moments on TV, Dong-Jae greets Si-Mok outside and begs him for one more chance. With tears stinging his eyes, he reaches out and holds Si-Mok’s hands. We don’t see the conclusion to this scene though until very late on in the episode.

As we see from a flashback, Chang-Joon has always had Si-Mok’s interests at heart and as we cut back to the construction site again, we see the scene play out properly. Chang-Joon believed that Si-Mok could handle this burden alone and always had faith in his student. As he’s transferred out to Namhae, Si-Mok leaves the office.

Back at the station, Yeo-Jin receives some flowers from Jung-Bon to congratulate her for her promotion. She also receives some presents, including make-up. Just like old times, she then heads off to meet Si-Mok in their familiar spot and they start drinking together. Si-Mok has decided to give Dong-Jae the benefit of the doubt but promises to watch him closely.

With Si-Mok leaving in the morning, Yeo-Jin hands over a new drawing for him. Instead of the frowning face from before, this time it’s all smiles. “You should practice your smiling in the mirror,” She teases as the two continue to banter.

In the morning, Yeo-Jin is promoted along with Sergeant Gang-San, who both move up a rank together. As they stand to attention, Si-Mok loads his car up to leave. Dong-Jae returns to the office and both Clerk Choi and Clerk Kim realize glumly that he’s their new superior. As he heads into Si-Mok’s old office, he picks up the phone and begins talking.

After saying her goodbyes to Chang-Joon, Yeon-Jae returns to the office where it’s revealed she’s now the CEO of Hanjo Group. Although it’s not mentioned outright, it seems like they’re working on getting former-Chairman Lee’s arrest suspended.

10 months pass and Si-Mok reminisces about moments involving Chang-Joon. With issues surrounding Prime Minister Kim causing a buzz around Korea, Si-Mok is inevitably brought in for the investigation. As he looks out the window, his eyes turn to the photo of the investigation group up on the roof before sitting at his desk.

At his computer, Si-Mok looks up and that familiar drawing from Yeo-Jin is right there. He smiles; a warm compassionate smile that sees him going through paperwork, which is where the episode ends.

The Episode Review

What a great ending to this Korean drama. There’s just enough here to entice you into a second season while wrapping everything up in a satisfying way. With Yoon behind bars, all eyes turn to Chang-Joon this episode and understanding what he’s doing puts everything into new context. Yes, he was corrupted and ascended up to the Blue House but he also never lost sight of his roots.

That doesn’t make his actions of bloodshed any more righteous but it does put them into more context. Seeing him have absolute faith in Si-Mok, right up to the very end, puts all those actions in the past into new light too. From Si-Mok’s promotions to the champagne glass in the Blue House, every action Chang-Joon has taken has been one of deliberation and to raise his student up. 

While his death is incredibly cowardly, he does manage to at least bring down some of Hanjoo with him. Unfortunately his quote about the right arm growing back seems to be true for Hanjoo Corporation, especially with Yeon-Jae now taking the reigns.

The endings for both Si-Mok and Yeo-Jin are perfect though, with the latter finally able to be proud of the police force and wear her badge with honour. We’ve seen her conviction waver a little in the past, especially with Chief Kim’s betrayal, but she’s always been loyal to the case. This is definitely a fitting end for her character.

By comparison, Si-Mok has been cold and alone for such a long time that Yeo-Jin has managed to help him become more empathetic. Seeing him use Yeo-Jin’s words on TV are a great example of this, but it also extends to Dong-Jae too. The Si-Mok of old would not have hesitated in locking him up but this could also be a decision that comes back to bite him in the future.

For now though, Stranger bows out with a wonderful finale and a warming smile as this case comes to an end.

Next Episode (Season 2)

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