IRIS: Episode 2
I’m still not sure how I feel about this drama, and whether I want to recap it through the end. I enjoy watching it, and I will keep watching it, but… I was kind of bored this episode. After a nice beginning, this episode felt like a re-cobbling together of shows I’ve seen before. (I’ve seen Alias, I’ve seen 24.) For all the excitement of the plot — spies, plots, assassins, secret missions — it felt kind of ordinary, in a way. On the upside, it looked great and the plot unfolded smoothly. Which is why I think it’s interesting that I felt let down.
SONG OF THE DAY
IRIS OST – “잊지 말아요” (Don’t Forget) by Baek Ji-young [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Breaking free of his restraints, Hyun-joon pounds on the reinforced one-way glass with a chair. A medic enters to administer a sedative, but Hyun-joon turns the tables and sticks him with his own needle. The NSS director Baek San watches stoically (as does Seung-hee) from the other side, waiting to see how this scenario will unfold. This is why he lets Hyun-joon escape his holding room, fight off guards, and head out into the hallway.
Hyun-joon finds Sa-woo half-unconscious in another room and frees him, dragging him along to seek freedom. But they come to a dead end and are cornered by a trio of armed agents. Trapped.
The two men are brought before Baek San, and coerced into remaining calm by the presence of shadowy figures pointing guns at them.
The director explains that they have been tested by the NSS. Now that they have passed the trial, they have the opportunity to join the NSS as agents fighting to preserve national security. He assures them, “The country has chosen you, but you have the right to decline. If you want to give up here, you may go back.” If they choose to join, however, they will undergo training with the agency and be made into agents.
On their first day inside the NSS offices, they are both shocked to be introduced to two of their superiors. First is the head of their counterterrorism unit: Park Sang-hyun, Sa-woo’s sunbae. Second is profiler Choi Seung-hee: the girl both fell for, who soon disappeared.
After shock comes anger: Sa-woo wants to know if this was all part of Sang-hyun’s plan — did he call him out for drinks just to scope him out? Hearing that yes, Sang-hyun was intending to recruit him, Sa-woo feels used. It’s a further abuse of his trust to subject him to such a painful test — but Sang-hyun tells him that he went through it, too. They all did.
Hyun-joon also wonders if his meeting with Seung-hee was orchestrated ahead of time — did she plan everything, down to the classroom interaction? She answers yes; she needed to profile him.
Both men feel peeved, although Sa-woo is quicker to get over it. Or rather, his romantic admiration of Seung-hee helps him accept her apology more readily, and he tells her that he understands.
The new recruits are taken to a lunch at Baek San’s house with Seung-hee and Sang-hyun, and afterward, the four agents head out for drinks. There, Sang-hyun admits that it’s incredibly difficult to keep this secret from his own wife, although the director seems to be doing just fine. That just goes to show how cold he is.
All this time, Hyun-joon has been quietly seething, sending hard glances Seung-hee’s way, as though trying to figure her out. When she steps aside to take a phone call, he follows her outside. He wants to know what her profile of him says and demands an apology, but she doesn’t feel the need to give one, since she’s done nothing to apologize for.
However, she does decide to reveal, in a hard tone, what her profile turned up: He acts big to disguise a troubled and painful past. She even profiled the fact that he fell for her, and adds sardonically, “But what can you do? Dating is strictly forbidden among our employees, and even if it were permitted, you’re not my type.’ She warns him that she’s his superior — just as he suddenly reaches for her and kisses her. She breaks free angrily and slaps him. He grabs her in another kiss.
Again, Seung-hee struggles, but this time, she gives in after a few moments and starts to kiss him back.
It’s for this reason that Hyun-joon feels rather proud of himself when Seung-hee calls him aside at work, especially when she assures him that the roof is the only place at the NSS without surveillance cameras. His self-satisfied smile fades when she warns him again that she’s his superior, once again cool and removed. Also, does he think her so insignificant that he can act this way?
Having put him in his place, she’s about to stalk off, but he stops her. Surprisingly, he admits openly that he’s not really in this job for the loyalty or patriotism. He just thought it would be fun, and he figured, “Ah, this must be my fate.” He’d seen NSS — “this dangerous, complicated organization” — in very simple terms: “If I risk my life, I can do this fun work that I consider my fate.”
Still, even if he isn’t motivated by deeper loyalty and isn’t a patriotic agent, he commits fully to his choices. Also, he adds that he’s never thought her insignificant, and this time he’s the one to excuse himself first. After the exchange, Seung-hee regards him in a new light, perhaps pleasantly surprised that there’s more to him than she may have seen.
Justin James – “Love Me More.” This is the song prominently featured in the following scenes.
[ Download ]
And so, over the course of the following days, their dynamic undergoes a shift. Seung-hee eyes him with newfound interest, and the two engage in subtle worktime flirting, trading small glances and keeping their smiles from being noticed by their colleagues.
Seung-hee even initiates a game of footsie during a group briefing, which takes Hyun-joon off-guard. Both maintain composed expressions, not betraying the fact that he’s teasing her foot under the table…
…and certainly nobody catches on to the fact that he has retaliated by handcuffing her foot to the table. Ha.
They also meet their support staff, such as the eccentric older Oh Hyun-kyu who works in crime-scene investigation and forensics. (This drama seems to have adopted the Alias theory that wacky support staff is jokey and funny. I’ll just say that every time Marshall appeared onscreen with his “quirky” and oddball behavior, I felt the urge to spork him.)
After meeting the new recruits, Oh Hyun-kyu imparts the men with some Nietzchean advice: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.” He explains to Seung-hee later that he read Hyun-joon’s file, and has seen that he has the makings of becoming a monster.
Also: Hwang Tae-sung is another member of the support staff; Yang Mi-jung (singer-actress Juni) is the resident computer programmer/hacker.
We don’t specifically see how Hyun-joon and Seung-hee’s romance starts, but by this point they’re dating, albeit secretly. Hyun-joon slips away from home (which he shares with Sa-woo) and heads over to Seung-hee’s house for a date. The moment he leaves, however, Sa-woo also gets spruced up and heads out — and arrives at her place unannounced, just ahead of Hyun-joon.
Luckily, Hyun-joon sees his friend at the door and hides out of view. Seung-hee is surprised, and Sa-woo hems and haws in a cutely insecure way. Fumbling for a reason to explain his presence, he asks about profiling. Thankfully (?), both men receive calls at the same time — it’s the office.
The counterterrorism team reconvenes for a briefing: their target is a Japanese man with Syrian citizenship named Yamamoto Takashi, who is wanted not only by the NSS but also Japan’s security agency. They have intelligence informing them that Takashi will be arriving at Incheon Airport tomorrow, and he is a known terrorist.
However, they can’t merely prevent his entrance to the country, because if he has an act of terror planned, it’s more important to suss out what he’s working on. It also means that his accomplices have already bypassed security to slip into the country. Therefore, it’s imperative that they survey Takashi and find out what he’s up to. This will be Sa-woo and Hyun-joo’s first mission.
The team is deployed and follows Takashi from the airport to an outdoor plaza (Cheonggyecheon), and then to a casino. Hyun-joon takes a seat a few tables away, where Sa-woo joins him, eager to get their first mission into action.
Until, of course, they both take note of an unexpected figure sitting at Takashi’s table: an undercover Seung-hee, decked out in her Austin Powers glitz. She flirts lightly with Takashi in Japanese, complimenting his gambling. She bets based on his actions, and happily cheers on as he wins them both money. The guys watch grimly, not liking this at all, especially when Takashi invites Seung-hee up to her room for champagne.
Because she’s wired, the guys can eavesdrop on her interactions, but both really hate seeing her put herself on the line like this. (I think Hyun-joon particularly hates how comfortable she is in this role.)
She defers the man’s advances by asking to shower first, and lets him use the bathroom first. When she hears the sound of the shower, she gets moving, and uses a special device to transfer all the data on Takashi’s cell phone to headquarters. There’s a moment of tension as the device slowly transfers its data and time ticks down, but she finishes just in time and leaves before Takashi catches her. He finds a note scrawled on a napkin, which asks for a postponement of their date till tomorrow.
For this second date, Hyun-joon and Sa-woo act as her backup team, monitoring her conversation while waiting in a nearby car. Seung-hee and Takashi go on a seemingly normal date as they browse the stores and she tries on clothing.
She keeps an eye on him, and her ruse seems to be going well… until he suddenly grabs her roughly and pulls her aside to a deserted storage area. Slamming hear against the wall, Takashi demands to know who she’s working for, and yanks off her earring (thankfully a clip-on), which contains her bugging device. He crushes it, and the transmission to headquarters fuzzes out.
The instant the conversation turns dire, both guys race out of the car and head toward the department store to intervene, now that Seung-hee’s in trouble and her cover blown. She fights back but he’s a lot stronger, and he manages to get a firm grip on her throat and chokes her. At the approach of Sa-woo and Hyun-joon, however, he runs away while Sa-woo chases. Hyun-joon’s first instinct is to check on Seung-hee, but she demands that he hurry and chase Takashi.
Using satellite tracking, the support staff relays Takashi’s movements to the two agents, who follow on foot. When Takashi grabs a delivery scooter, the agents follow by car, again guided by their backup staff.
The pursuit takes them to the subway station, where Takashi buys some time by blending with the crowd. The guys maneuver through the throngs of commuters, and Hyun-joon spies his target slipping onto the subway car. Shoving people aside, he gets on and races from car to car, his eye fixed on Takashi.
But when he catches up to him, a shocked murmur rises from the crowd. On the ground is Takashi, unmoving, with blood pooling around his head.
They’re too late: someone else has gotten to Takashi first. As the subway starts to move, Hyun-joon sees a man in black, who has just stepped off the subway, walking away on the platform. They don’t know who he is, but we do, since it’s North Korean agent Park Chul-young from Episode 1.
Examination of the body shows a clean, single shot through the back of the head — definitely the work of a pro.
NSS deduces that Takashi’s motive was terrorism, but the target of the act remains unknown. In a meeting, the likely possibilities are discussed — the South Korean president, an American ambassador, and the like — but that’s still too vague. They need to narrow down the search.
Hyun-joon speaks up about his own hunch about Takashi’s motives, but he’s unable to provide proof. His speculation comes from a feeling he got during his pursuit and he’s just putting out another possibility — but the agent leading the meeting angrily cuts him off. They have enough trouble with the info they do have; they don’t need to be mucking up the investigation with one agent’s gut feelings.
As a result, Hyun-joon and Sa-woo are taken off the mission and told to stand by. Seung-hee actually defends him, saying that a field agent’s hunch could be more accurate than data analysis — but Sang-hyun shushes her. She is also told to stand by.
They’re all irritated to be taken off the case, but Seung-hee and Hyun-joon don’t let this stop them from continuing to work on it (separately). Seung-hee analyzes her map for clues, while Hyun-joon asks for the schedule of a politician, Jo Myung-ho, who is running for president.
Scanning the agenda, something catches Hyun-joon’s eye. He recognizes that one of the locations on the schedule, Cheonggyecheon, was one of the places Takashi had been. Could this be coincidence?
Working on their own (without authorization), Hyun-joon and Sa-woo check out Cheonggyecheon, which is a large public square in Seoul. Jo Myung-ho is delivering an election speech here, and a large crowd has gathered to participate in the rally.
The agents scope out the surroundings, wondering where they would set up their hypothetical base if they were working on a terrorist operation. They both come to the conclusion — a balcony in one of the adjacent buildings — and Hyun-joon sends Sa-woo up to investigate, while he’ll keep an eye out on the ground.
Sa-woo calls Mi-jung in their tech team, who is reluctant to bend the rules to help him on an unauthorized job. However, he persuades her to go to Seung-hee, who takes responsibility and instructs Mi-jung to use the satellite tracking system to zoom in on the spot the guys picked out. To her surprise, they see a man setting up a rifle — it’s a sniper.
Sa-woo races to stop him, and shoots the sniper. But they know that there should be a second sniper setting up in another location, and Hyun-joon looks around trying to figure out where.
Indeed there is a second sniper in another building. Hyun-joon spies him just as Jo Myung-ho takes the podium to deliver his rousing stump speech. There’s no time for either Sa-woo or Hyun-joon to make it up to the second building to stop him, so Sa-woo grabs the first sniper’s rifle and takes aim at the second sniper. Hyun-joon races toward the stage to get to the politician in time.
(How badass does Jung Jun-ho look?)
Sa-woo spots his target and shoots, but it’s a split-second too late and the sniper gets off a shot. Lucky for the presidential candidate, Hyun-joon arrives in the nick of time and launches himself at him, knocking the man to the ground just a moment before the bullet rips through the banner behind him.
In the crowd, a familiar black-clad man watches over the proceedings. He’d been watching from a position on the ground, in the midst of the crowd. Now that the plan is thwarted, he walks away unnoticed.
Now for TOP. Dressed in crisp black and sporting a badass scowl, we know very little about him so far but his profile tells us this is “Vic,” an assassin with the shadowy organization called “IRIS.” (I suppose the name could be “Big” (빅), but I’m going with Vic.)
He hangs out in a dark graffiti-decorated den and is shown a video clip by an English-speaking colleague. It’s the footage of Hyun-joon saving the politician, and as soon as he watches it, he gets a call from a “Mr. Black.” Vic answers the phone in his gangsta English, “You got it. I’m on my way.”
Despite the fact that our agents acted without permission in a dangerous and highly visible mission, at the end of the day they prevented the assassination of an important politician, and Sang-hyun says that what’s important is that the job got done. The team heads out for drinks and celebrates. The two best friends indulge in a shameless round of karaoke singing, while the forensics guy Hyun-kyu again cautions Seung-hee that Hyun-joon may turn into a monster.
Afterward, a slightly tipsy and very cheery Seung-hee prods the guys to join her in another round of drinks, and they end up continuing the celebration at her place.
Seung-hee is in a particularly lighthearted mood and invites her two subordinates to use common banmal speech with her. She’s younger than both of them, but because of her higher rank, she typically gets to use banmal with them while they have to use the elevated polite speech with her. But in the spirit of the moment, she urges them to drop the formalities.
Hyun-joon tests it out first, enjoying the sound of the informal words. Sa-woo is more bashful, and has to be urged by Seung-hee to go ahead. He can barely bring himself to say it, but once he does call her “Seung-hee-ya,” he really enjoys the intimacy of calling her by her name rather than the strictly professional “team leader.”
The three pass out on the floor. They start out lying in fairly close proximity to each other, but by morning the bodies have shifted in sleep and Sa-woo wakes up on the sidelines. Perhaps acting unconsciously, Seung-hee and Hyun-joon are now sleeping in each other’s arms. I’m not sure if Sa-woo suspects more to their relationship, but he doesn’t mention it.
Later, Sa-woo and Hyun-joon are called to the Blue House (Korea’s White House), presumably in response to their service. Their posture above should tell you all you need to know about their respective personalities. For instance, Hyun-joon eats a cookie that’s been set out for them, while Sa-woo nervously tells him to wait until after their meeting.
But something else catches Hyun-joon’s eye: a painting hanging on the wall. He approaches it.
As he stands looking at his own reflection, he starts to hear echoes of the past, of a little boy named Hyun-joon standing here in this room and exclaiming to a man — possibly the then-president — that when he grows up, he wants to be a Superman who protects the earth.
At Sa-woo’s curious inquiry, Hyun-joon answers, “I think I’ve been here before.”
But that’s not the end of the memory, because there are flashes of the scene afterward, when his happy parents had been driving that night, a happily gurgling young Hyun-joon playing in the backseat. Out of nowhere, a truck had slammed straight into their car. The boy had cried in fear while his parents lay injured in their seats.
And if that weren’t bad enough, a dark figure had come up to the car and fired a bullet through the windshield.
All right, let me start with the positive. The pacing is good, and the music definitely a standout feature (I don’t mean the soundtrack, although that’s fine, but the background score). Acting is solid, and the series continues to have the high-quality visual look of a film more than a television series. The subject material is certainly dramatic, and there is a lot of room for an exciting blend of mystery, intrigue, and action.
On the other hand, it’s a little too… slick.
It has all the makings of something interesting, but I felt this episode really showed that IRIS is merely utilizing the spy cliches rather than moving past them. What I mean by that is, this episode had high stakes and exciting setups, but the story was told in such a familiar way that everything was rather expected. Seung-hee’s disguise and cell-phone tapping was not particularly ingenious, and the sting operation to catch Takashi was — if you really look at it — kind of laughably simple.
Here’s the problem: IRIS doesn’t seem to be making its own mark on the genre, and seems to instead be borrowing someone else’s clothes. This episode could have been an Alias episode, circa Season 1. Now, I loved Alias Season 1, but that was eight years ago, and I think a show that airs now has got to offer something new. If you’re a new show that repackages the same old cliches (albeit in a well-made, good-looking way), it actually comes off rather silly, so I cringed a bit in some of the chase scenes. And particularly whenever a spy touched his finger to his ear to “communicate” via his high-tech communication device. No wonder Takashi caught on to Seung-hee’s act. The team was practically screaming, “Look at me! I’m a spy cliche!”
(Counterargument: But you say, JB, what about all those cliched romantic comedies you seem to love so much? Are THEY “making their mark” on the genre, or are they just copying the formula too? Why don’t you hold them to the same standard you’re holding IRIS to?
My answer: IRIS is probably the biggest-hyped show of the year, perhaps even more than East of Eden, definitely more than Cain & Abel, Hero, and the rest. It has a ridiculous amount of money poured into it and filmed months in advance. It was so hyped that there were licensing agreements to produce a movie and a manhwa even before the drama aired. It was supposed to be the newer, better, badder Swiri, which practically created the blockbuster genre in Korean film and was the highest-grossing film of its time, at the time. A fluff romance or a simple family drama — say, Smile or Sol Pharmacy — isn’t aiming to reinvent the genre so I’m pleased when it does its thing well. It’s like this: If you order mac n’ cheese, and you get a damn good mac n’ cheese, you’re going to be comforted and pleased. If you order some fancy haute cuisine and it comes out mac n’ cheese, you’re going to (1) feel cheated, and (2) say, “Bish plz, that’s a damn good mac n’ cheese but don’t try to sell it to me as gourmet reinvention.”)
I don’t need a drama to be realistic, but I do need it to speak to me. I don’t really mind that IRIS feels Western, but I do feel a little disappointed that it seems to have (voluntarily) ditched all semblance of a kdrama. I don’t mean I want melodramas and makjang plots (secret babies, adultery plots, switched-at-birth shenanigans), but I wish it didn’t feel like it was trying to be an American show. It wears the trappings well, to be sure, but I’m sorta sad that it’s not more… I dunno, taking ownership of itself?
(Example: Horror films. There are amazing examples from both the West and in Asia, but Asia has managed to carve out its niche and put its stamp on the genre.)
Okay, I think that came out a little harsher than I intended, because I enjoyed the episode. But when something is close to being good, it frustrates me more than if it were outright bad — because it was so close. But I feel like the writer is sorta half-assing the story. It sounds like people really loved Episodes 3 and 4, so I’ll give it another shot, because the North Korean political stuff is where I think the drama can set itself apart.
On a completely separate note, I find the romance between Seung-hee and Hyun-joon interesting in that the initial stages are glossed over in a music-video-like montage and suddenly they’re dating. Maybe it’s their way of sliding past Seung-hee’s change of heart from being a cool, distant professional to being won over by Hyun-joon’s charm. As we see, Hyun-joon surprises her early on with his frank admission that he’s no great hero; I wonder if she admires his openness or sees a hero inside anyway. (Or, as Hyun-kyu says, a monster.) It’s ironic, then, that she sold him short initially based on her profiling, because as a profiler she has all this insight into people’s characters and delves into their inner lives, even the parts that they keep hidden from others and perhaps even themselves. Yet she was swift to size Hyun-joon up and reduce him to his profile. In a way, in Seung-hee’s mind, people fit into profiles, rather than profiles fitting people.
- Iris bed scene too hot for broadcast television
- IRIS: Episode 1
- Iris’s strong start endangers Heading’s ending
- Iris and Chuno run into production disputes
- Iris gets explosive
- And now for Iris’s Le Byung-heon
- A look at Iris’s supporting cast
- Iris’s profiler Kim Tae-hee
- Iris releases its newest poster
- Iris to be produced as a manhwa