By Bryan Tan
This review contains spoilers and covers episodes 15-16 of Stranger Season 2, which is currently available on Netflix.
Season 2 of Stranger has maintained a consistent position among the Top 10 shows on Netflix Singapore throughout its run, but even as it ends on a resounding note (the final episodes were dropped on 4 October), I can’t help but have mixed feelings.
Episode 15 begins with a stunning revelation; that Hwang Si Mok’s (Cho Seung Woo) boss, chief prosecutor Woo Tae Ha (Choi Moo Sung) has been the shadowy figure orchestrating the cover-up to prevent the discovery of the kidnapped prosecutor Seo Dong Jae (Lee Joon Hyuk), who has been digging into multiple cases in an effort to come up with dirt on the police force.
Chief Woo stands to gain the most from what prosecutor Seo has discovered, which then again begs the question; why did Chief Woo send Seo out on these errands in the first place? Actor Choi Moo Sung’s rather fatherly figure is definitely at odds with his cold-blooded boss persona; one who’s willing to throw his subordinate under the bus, even willing to let him die after realising that prosecutorial investigative rights could be retained if Seo dies, and he could pin the blame on a member of the police force. Chilling, isn’t it?
Then again, this has always been in line with director Park Hyun Suk’s style to throw viewers off with red herrings. To expect the unexpected and to suspect the unsuspect has been the story style for the director this season, which absolutely pales in comparison to the character-driven work by directors Ahn Gil Ho and Yoo Je Won in Season 1. A better plot direction would be to have clues, instead of red herrings, which all point towards the resolution, rather than have multiple dead ends which serve to do nothing but frustrate and distract.
Chief Woo’s motive is revealed to be fuelled by a lust for power and a transition to a political career, which is encouraged and facilitated by Hanjo Group, which came to the fore only at the end of the season. So far, the conglomerate has not really played any major revelatory role, and has been a barely visible peripheral character, much like the slew of smaller and mostly inconsequential plotlines.
A climactic and powerful scene does emerge from the detritus, when the deputy Prosecutor General tasks Hwang Si Mok to interrogate his boss. Chief Woo is not ashamed in the least in the confrontation with his subordinate, who reveals all his wrongdoings of planting fake evidence and conspiring with a witness.
Chief Woo ignores all the questions from Hwang, even boldly stating that his plan would have panned out perfectly if not for prosecutor Seo. Ironically, it was Chief Woo who tasked Seo to investigate the various cases, which ultimately expose Woo’s hand in perverting the investigations and smearing the police.
The best metaphor for Stranger Season 2 would be a meal that fills you up, but doesn’t satisfy you at all. It makes a good effort to try and tie up the loose ends of the all the subplots that it initiates, but too little and far too late, at the same time neglecting any meaningful character development.
You feel absolutely no pity for Chief Woo whose wrongdoing is exposed, yet also no sense of triumph for protagonist Hwang, who seems driven by inevitable plot machinery like a puppet.
The relationship between Hwang and his sidekick senior inspector Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doo Na) was also almost completely omitted. There could have been more instances of tension between the two, as they were on different sides fighting for the same thing; if not to better highlight how the police and prosecutors could engage in meaningful dialogue in spite of their differences (the police-prosecutorial council is eventually disbanded).
It is unfortunate that my fervent prayers for Stranger Season 2 were unanswered; perhaps director Park felt immense pressure to live up to the reputation of Season 1, or perhaps he simply tried to do too many things and got tangled up in his vision for a complex investigative thriller. Nevertheless, it is with a heavy heart that this series gets a barely passing grade from me.
Read our other reviews of Stranger Season 2: