Things keep getting more complicated, as Yeo-jin and Shi-mok are pulled further in opposing directions by their superiors, and the web of corruption surrounding the Police-Prosecution Council continues to expand. Our protagonists have to gauge what they’re willing to lose in the cause of justice—and what choices they even have.
Anisa: This week’s episodes were especially knotty and complicated, when it comes to both characters’s machinations and our leads’ emotions.
Yunah: Knotty is correct! There are so many loose threads the writer has sewn in, and right now, I have no idea how they’ll all intertwine, but it really makes this series so incredibly entertaining when every week there’s a new wrench thrown into the mix: this week our beloved weasel goes missing?! Also it totally surprised me when he mentioned his wife and kids. I had always assumed he was a single dude, but it does make you see him in a gentler light. Sure, the brown-nosing makes him look bad, but ultimately, he’s just a guy striving for his best. It’s effort!
Anisa: Dong-jae is fascinating because you can see that he absolutely enjoys being in the orbits of power—there is self-interest there—but his description of his family life and the effect of being constantly rotated to rural areas gives him an extra layer of motivation that makes him even more human and relatable.
Saya: What’s so sad is that his brown-nosing doesn’t pay off—he just gets used like a bad hanky. It’s made worse by the fact that he’s genuinely competent and hard-working. He’s so unlike Yeo-in and Shi-mok in their hero-moulds, but that’s because he’s clearly recognised that working within the system is pretty much the only realistic choice, so you might as well make it work for you.
Lee: That cliffhanger though! And the enigmatic phone call Shi-mok got too. I never thought I’d sympathise with the Weasel as much as I do. Last season I found him so slimy and I wanted him to end up in jail. Now I almost feel sorry for him and his never-ending quest to be a part of the privileged elite.
Yunah: But first, he’s gotta do the gruntwork, and pick up some drunk ol’ superiors like he’s some on-call driver.
Anisa: Or maybe his superiors are in on whatever happened to him?! 😱
Lee: I can’t imagine that the call to pick up the drunks counts as the kind of leg-up that he was asking Shi-mok for. He seemed annoyed when it came in and I did feel sorry for him. It’s the kind of thing he was doing a decade ago and you can feel that in him when he got the call. “I’m still here in the same place”. So whatever happened after that is what got him kidnapped? Hopefully not murdered!
Yunah: Episode 5 brought me back to what we discussed last week, how Shi-mok is somewhat incapable of being tainted because of his inability to form the deep-seated connections that can lead to wider corruption. However, that realization Shi-mok had with Chief Kang was very telling; Shi-mok, too, isn’t all that different since he came to Kang for a favour, even if that favour was a “good” ask. Is it still pulling strings when the ask is for the greater good? Does that make it okay? And like Chief Kang said, the whole mutual back-scratching becomes all too natural and an inherent part of the job. I see this play out all the time in my industry—film & TV—and it’s inevitable. Every single interaction can be perceived as transactional, and whether we like it or not, there is a mental tally that we keep.
Anisa: So true. We’ve seen Shi-mok be disappointed in others (rarely, because he doesn’t often have expectations to begin with), but this was the first time we saw him disappointed in himself. It kind of blew my mind, and also made me want to give him a hug.
Yunah: It also blew my mind! I really wanted to tell him, “Hey despite what you just realized, you’re still one of the rare good ones! Don’t you forget that! Now go treat yourself to a tasty snack that isn’t cow innards!”
Lee: Connections, connections. It’s all about connections this week. And the accusation that Shi-mok’s “greatest skill is his connections” was as shocking to us as it was to him. I thought my robot baby was actually going to cry.
Saya: He had the ultimate hangdog, most miskeen face ever!
Anisa: He is so stringently, matter-of-factly ethical, and it’s actually so refreshing to see that he’s not simply above the moral dilemmas faced by mere mortals: now that he’s allowed himself to form some personal connections, he does feel the pull of those relationships. But he holds himself to the same standard he demands from everyone else, and that’s what makes him a hero.
Yunah: Bless dear Shi-mok! And I think we see that same standard upheld by Yeo-jin, too, which was exemplified in that heated scene that took place at the prison facility with one of the cop bullies. The cop was basically justifying his temptations by blaming the system, which really set Yeo-jin off and rightfully so. Just ‘cause the swamp’s rotten, doesn’t mean you should be, too.
Lee: The very first scene of the show had that dense fog and Shi-mok’s headlights shining dimly in them and I thought at the time it was a metaphor for justice being a dim light in a dense fog of corruption. So the whole conversation between Yeo-jin and Shi-mok about the restriction line this week was especially powerful. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. And he drove past that restriction line deciding that dealing with it wasn’t worth his effort. And Yeo-jin is dealing with cut restriction lines all over the place as well.
Anisa: It was hard to watch Yeo-jin this week—she is clearly struggling in her own untenable position, maybe even more than Shi-mok because she feels things so deeply. She’s caught in this power struggle that’s not of her own making, but that she’s required to take part in; her instincts for justice and fairness are up against her precarious position in the force at this moment. (As Choi Bit pointed out, what happens with the Police-Prosecution Council will determine Yeo-jin’s future.) So she absolutely struggles with whether to stay true to herself or give in to her own temptations—and that’s exemplified by that really difficult conversation she had with Shi-mok on her balcony. She ultimately decides to stay true to her own (and Shi-mok’s) moral code, but the tears in her eyes after she’s made that choice show that she knows it’ll cost her.
Lee: These conversations all end up grounded in ambition. But what happens if your ambition is to be a really good police officer or an upright prosecutor? I feel like both Shi-mok and Yeo-jin just want to make a difference, not seed their own flower-strewn path. Everyone keeps talking to them about connections and power and ambition and I can feel them hitting that wall every time. No wonder she looks exhausted and he looks so sad all the time.
Yunah: It’s tricky. Is siding with your crew and playing “dirty” worth it in the end if Yeo-jin eventually reaches the upper echelons—where Choi Bit currently resides—in which she can actually enact the change she wants to see?
Anisa: In a way it’s Lee Chang-joon from Season 1 all over again. The noble ideals which justify the corrupt means will inevitably lead to a not-noble place. But it doesn’t feel like a rehash to be dealing with this same issue now, because in Season 1 Yeo-jin was so sure of her path. In many ways she served as Shi-mok’s anchor. But now, as she said to him, the fight feels endless. When she catches one criminal, two more pop up somewhere else, and corruption is endemic in every sector of government. She’s weary and wondering if it’s time to give up.
Yunah: Totally. It’s a never ending battle that only ever gets more complicated as you rise up the ranks.
Lee: When I’m watching these episodes I just hear that analogy of Shi-mok being like a knife that only ends up cutting himself. And Chief Kang’s warning that if you take him out of the drawer for the wrong reason you’ll end up regretting it.
Anisa: Shi-mok has unrepentantly started his troublemaking, and I am here for it. (Poor Chief Kang is probably going to end up with an ulcer.)
Lee: Also our Prosecutor Kim has finally seen Shi-mok for the first time. Watching him run around trying to understand this rare new breed of wildlife was surprisingly funny. Why does this make me laugh every time? “Is he connected? He must be connected? EXPLAIN HIS BEHAVIOUR TO ME”.
Anisa: Bwahaha. I love how Shi-mok flat-out said, regarding his little stop in Yeon-jae’s car, that it was none of Kim’s business and to go ahead and tell on him. If he was the type to stick out his tongue he totally would have. And speaking of Yeon-jae… she gets more interesting by the week. Yoon Se-ah can make any character ten times more interesting to watch, but here she has SO much to chew on.
Saya: I just want to chime in here and say Yoon Se-ah could not save Melting Me Softly from being a trainwreck 🤣 But then, maybe nobody could. But sorry, back to Yeon-jae!
Yunah: Yeon-jae is FASCINATING. And as we all know, being a woman is a double-edged sword in this patriarchal world, and she really knows how to wield it to get exactly what she wants, even if it means leaning into stereotypes (i.e. damsel in distress). Cue the waterworks and sob story about mean sexist comments online and dramatically wipe away the “too red” lipstick to garner pity points and make Sungmoon Daily’s CEO weak. Seal the deal with a hug since it’s benign enough to not cross any lines. She’s got beauty and brains, and she’s used both MASTERFULLY.
Lee: I mean… the comment that an entrepreneur has lips that aren’t that red was sexist, incredibly so. You put on your war paint and then get judged for it. You take it off and get judged for it. Also this is the first episode where I found the Hanjo stuff GRIPPING rather than kind of boring and that was down to the performances. Gosh the tension, the repressed fury.
Anisa: That comment from him just proved her point, and he knew it, but he couldn’t help himself. Those two have such an interesting tension between them–am I completely off in remembering that she was engaged to him for family/political reasons but left him for Lee Chang-joon and he still carries a torch for her? I need to go back and check. They definitely have some kind of past.
Saya: And here I was hoping you’d clear that up! But speaking of women trying to rise in a man’s world, I’m really fascinated by the relationship and strange kind of tension between Yeo-jin and Choi Bit. That conversation about how Choi’s intention was to take Yeo-jin as her protegée of sorts. But everything is spoken so obliquely, and the face she shows is so difficult to read. I wonder if she engineered the whole situation that put her in the Director’s chair in the first place, rather than just filling in as needed.
Lee: I wouldn’t be surprised at all. It says too that you only rise to these positions if you’re capable of being a political operator. And it’s no coincidence that the writer opted to have both Shi-mok and Yeo-jin’s superiors realise they’re not the political operators they thought they were in the same episode. Even if it was to Choi Bit’s disappointment and Woo’s confusion.
Saya: I kind of love that Woo thinks he’s got Shi-mok’s number…but is still surprised by him. Woo Tae-ha himself is a pretty great character, too (and about as unflappable as Shi-mok).
Yunah: Side note, totally irrelevant….but wow it really pays to be friends with the writer. I love seeing familiar faces from Life and Stranger Season 1 pop up again in Season 2. I mean, also, who wouldn’t want to appear in a Lee Soo-yeon drama again?!
Anisa: And speaking of familiar faces—what was that little interlude Yeo-jin had with Yoon, the murderer from Season 1? Was there a weird undercurrent between them, or am I imagining things and Yeo-jin just feels bad for him because of his dead son?
Yunah: That undercurrent was a little puzzling, but I don’t think it was romantic. Probably had to do with the fact that they worked closely together in Season 1/were playing for the same team until…ya know. Now, she got promoted, and he’s in jail. Things could’ve panned out differently for him.
Lee: And here I was hoping you’d clear that up….
Anisa: No clue honestly. But we have consistently seen Yeo-jin’s heart and compassion for her fellow human beings since the first time we met her. It’s one of the things Shi-mok appreciates about her.
Lee: And I’m wondering if Shi-mok is the one sending care packages too.
Yunah: Ooo…that’s right. Who else would send care packages?
Anisa: True. We know by this point that Shi-mok doesn’t lack emotion; he just struggles to express it. Did you all squeal and also die of heartbreak when Shi-mok asked Yeo-jin, “Aren’t you drawing these days?”
Saya: YES, DED. Also it made me feel sad for the state of their friendship now. And you know that sense of how alone they each are all the time? When they’re together, all of it compounds to become a great howling loneliness…that might be me projecting how I feel about them, but also it’s true.
Lee: The drawings—such a little thing that we had all noticed and just shows how finely written this whole thing is, how much thought has gone into these characters and who they are and what their journey has been these past two years. Of course she’s not drawing any more. She’s too tired. And I love that he is the only one who noticed that.
Anisa: I swear, their friendship makes me feel more intense emotions than many a romantic pairing. (In an interview, Bae Doona and Jo Seung-woo called Shi-mok and Yeo-jin “perfect partners” and “the friends of a lifetime”. I concur.)
Yunah: OMG YES! Bet you he still has that self-portrait of him safely tucked away somewhere! Also love the Dong-jae/Shi-mok funnies that took place outside the prison facility. “You like red bean, right?” as Dong-jae takes the soboro bread for himself. Shi-mok removing himself as Dong-jae’s arm rest when Dong-jae referred to him as his assistant 🤣
Saya: Can I just add that I love this grudging wannabe-friendship that Dong-jae has got going on with Shi-mok? And he’s constantly making these adorable overtures that just fly over Shi-mok’s head. AND YET: it’s with Dong-jae that Shi-mok actually gets to eat. God bless our weasel 😭
Lee: Bad food though, Saya. Bad food.
Saya: Food is food!
Lee: Also I’ve noticed this season he doesn’t get to sleep either. But there’s something between Dong-jae and Shi-mok that’s verging on bromance and I completely love it.
Anisa: Totally agreed. Which is why I won’t forgive this show if something irrevocable happens to Dong-jae.
Yunah: Praying that the weasel weasels his way out of whatever pickle he’s in! Godspeed!
Saya: Weasel pickle? (Sorry, I’m Bengali…anything can be pickled and it is always delicious 😅)
Lee: As usual, live watching is killing me and now I just want next week to roll around.
Yunah: Very jealous of all my friends who are “behind” on Stranger Season 2, but it is SUCH a pleasure to gush with you ladies!
Anisa: As always, thanks for joining us! And we’ll all look forward—impatiently—to a hopefully unpickled Weasel next week.