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.