Episode 16 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
tvN’s first Saturday/Sunday night drama is an absolute firecracker of a show. Blending excellent characterization, lots of twists and some believable detective work, Stranger is a must-watch Korean drama. A winner of 3 Baeksang Awards, Stranger earns those accolades with a story that keeps you guessing right to the very end.
What’s particularly impressive with this show though is just how much chemistry the lead duo have without a single ounce of romance. There’s no romantic sub-plot or the usual tropes you’d expect, save for some late-season drama that tackles political ideas we’ve seen many times before.
The catalyst for all of this drama is the death of Moo-Sung Park. Found dead in his apartment, prosecutor Si-Mok rushes to the scene and begins piecing together what really happened. With a TV repairman scrambling from the scene, Si-Mok joins police detective Yeo-Jin in chase and bring the suspect to custody.
What seems like a simple crime soon reveals layers of shocking corruption at both the police station and the prosecution office. This leads all the way up the chain of command to various powerful players pulling the strings. Leading the investigation, Si-Mok puts together a team – including Yeo-Jin – to tackle the case and bring swift justice to those responsible.
With a 2 month window, the season twists and turns through various different suspects. Along the way it becomes almost impossible to tell who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. When the truth is finally revealed late on, it’s a shocking bombshell that’s sure to catch you off-guard.
All of this builds up to the finale where motivations are revealed and everything is put into a new context. It’s this level of depth and thoughtful writing that ultimately makes Stranger such a good drama. Every character is perfectly written, with enough nuance and depth to make their interactions memorable.
Chang-Joon’s student/teacher relationship with Si-Mok evolves and is given a lot of depth over the season. Eun-Soo’s motivations become muddied too, and you’ll find yourself wondering whether she’s involved or not. This goes for a lot of other players too, including the brash and arrogant Dong-Jae who becomes a focal point for much of the season.
Alongside the solid writing are some really clever stylistic cues. Taking influence from Hannibal, there’s lots of re-enactments at crime scenes. These range from the simple to the elaborate and as more crimes start piling up, the picture starts to become clearer. The police work itself is really well done, with one highlight seeing Si-Mok timing his steps to pick out a coffee shop that may hold clues.
It’s worth mentioning that the second half of this series does dive quite deeply into political affairs. In a way, this series is ultimately a story of two halves; the first a simple detective thriller and the other a political drama.
That’s to take nothing away from Stranger though, there’s some wonderful scenes and the show continues to remain an enthralling watch right up to the very end.
The title “Stranger” ultimately refers to Si-Mok himself. As a child, he had brain surgery which caused his emotions to become impaired. A stranger to his colleagues and superiors, Si-Mok is one of the few level-headed prosecutors not swayed by corruption.
This makes his charming and memorable interactions with Yeo-Jin all the more fascinating, as she constantly hands over drawings and gains his trust.
What’s particularly impressive about this pairing though is the lack of romantic implications. Sure, there’s a couple of flirty moments and some awkwardness involving Eun-Soo (who most definitely is attracted to Si-Mok) but largely the show pushes this aside in favour of the investigation.
Ultimately, this is why Stranger is such an effective drama. It’s a show that’s tonally on-point and manages to deliver one heck of a thriller across its 16 episode run. With an extended 90 minute finale, Stranger earns every minute of its screen-time with a wonderful finish that opens the door for season 2 and a new case to tackle.
If you haven’t already, Stranger is well worth your time and a must-watch Korean drama.
Click Here To Go Back To Our TV Show Reviews
Verdict - 9/10
6 thoughts on “Stranger (Secret Forest) – Full Season 1 Review”
One thing I love about Asian dramas and movies is that some of them have a subtlety far beyond most US dramas. This drama cultivates subtlety as if it were a rare and beautiful orchid.
The main character, Si-Mok, makes incredible use of silence and subtle expressions. His ability to completely disconcert people by simply not saying anything is such a relief from talk-a-thons that rely on clever innuendo or snappy or aggressive comebacks. Si-Mok is a different take on the noir detective genre.
Another example of the subtlety of this drama is the sexual tension between the two leads. In a US drama like NCIS or CSI they’d be hopping into bed by the second episode. It’s so enjoyable to watch a show that portrays the development of an actual deep human relationship. The friendship that grows up between the leads seems like fertile ground in which lasting love can take root. But even if it doesn’t, they will always be able to draw strength from their friendship.
That friendship has its ups and downs and is definitely tested by adversity. The reformation council in the second season pits Si-Mok and Yeo-Jin against one another at times, since he represents Prosecutors (I guess this corresponds to DAs in the states) and she represents the police. I love the way their friendship proves stronger than their differences.
It’s interesting to me that neither Si-Mok nor Yeo-Jin are all that attractive. Si-Mok, for example, is not as attractive as Dong-Jae, and Yeo-Jin is not as attractive as Eun-Soo or some of the other prosecutors Si-Mok works with. But that’s what makes the relationship between Si-Mok and Yeo-Jin more authentic. They appreciate inner virtue and excellence in one another. And their looks kind of grow on you. (I must admit that Yeo-Jin’s long hair in the second season was a bit of a shock at first! And it was fascinating that she cut it short again at the end of the season. Some kind of full-circle thing going on here?)
Yeo-Jin’s character is also a relief. At first, when she chased down and punched out a suspect, I thought it would be another “a woman can be just as good a man as any man” kind of thing. But as the show progresses, you see that she is really feminine, in a capable, intelligent and strong way. She is very much a woman in what is mostly a man’s world, but she doesn’t let that either stop her or force her to become simply a man with … uh … shall we say female secondary sex characteristics…. She’s a woman and as such she is an incredible comfort and help to Si-Mok, who, after all, is in a real sense disabled. She is the umbilical that connects Si-Mok to the human race.
The concept behind Si-Mok’s character is fascinating. Archetypes for his character range from Camus’ L’Etranger (is the drama’s title taken from this book?) to Sherlock Holmes (and his reliance on the “seven percent solution” to keep him from being bored to death) to Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s THE IDIOT. Perhaps Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” is another archetype. At any rate, he is intellectually and morally superior to those around him to an extent which places him beyond the comprehension of most of them. Only Yeo-Jin grasps him. Si-Mok is a perfect example of what I like to say from time to time: “It’s lonely at this end of the bell-curve.” To put it simply, from the perspective of those around him he is “too good to be true.” But part of the charm of the two dramas is the way he manages to inspire hope. He is one person who doesn’t let anyone down. And he makes people better. It’s like the part in the Bible where Jesus touched a leper. When he did, Jesus didn’t get unclean or diseased; the leper got healed and cleansed. When Si-Mok falls into a cesspool of corruption, he doesn’t get corrupt. The cesspool gets cleaner.
Some find the plots of the two seasons too complicated. I admit you have to pay attention. At one point in the second season I found myself saying, “I’ve lost the thread.” But the complexity and plots within plots are very satisfying, and the solutions definitely play fair with the viewer like a good mystery novel.
These two seasons each have a separate story arc. Both are well worth watching.
I loved this show. The duo of Si Mok and Yeo Jin is mesmerising. Both are charismatic in their own way but together they are dynamite. Such a kinship between them makes this great drama the success that it is.
I can’t wait for season 3. Thrilling, exciting, digging deap into corruption, wonderfull acting and amuzing in a korean way.
I love Stranger. I’ve watched both seasons and hope there’s a season 3. I would like to see Si-Mok start to slowly regain his emotions and become closer to Yeo-Jin. There are so many unanswered questions to include flashbacks from his childhood, what a male, female relationship would be like and a sense of normalcy for him. Netflix don’t disappoint us!
K drama that is so complicated…pass this one if i were you.
very good program That holds your attention through the whole series, Followed by- watching season 2, I hope they will produce and offer a season3 and hopefully follow with more I believe This series with fine acting and scripts will have a long production run, very good program . I