I actually really like the tone and feel of this show, which is a nice changeup in the current k-drama landscape. It starts out light and goofy, but it’s well-acted, so the dramatic turns don’t feel weightless. I’m a fan of cop procedurals to begin with, but I’ve honestly never seen a solid one in kdramaland. This might actually be the first time I stick with one. We’ll see how it goes.
The first two episodes premiered to low ratings (7-8% range), which isn’t surprising given that The Duo just got its adult cast going, and has had a few weeks’ head start. I think Crime Squad isn’t the type of show to be a breakout hit anyway, but so far I like it best out the current Monday-Tuesday lineup.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We start in the middle of a foot chase, with cops PARK SAE-HYUK (SONG IL-KOOK) and his partner SHIN DONG-JIN (KIM JOON), chasing a weasel through the streets. The things we can gather from this opening sequence are: they are plain-clothes detectives, Dong-jin is kind of a scaredy cat, and Sae-hyuk is the closer.
In the middle of the chase Sae-hyuk has a chance encounter where he bumps into JO MIN-JOO (SONG JI-HYO), though we haven’t officially met her yet, and neither has he.
Sae-hyuk uses his contacts to eventually track the guy down, and when he swallows the bit of evidence that he’s carrying, Sae-hyuk literally makes him poop it out. Gross.
He then drags the guy, along with the poopy evidence, into the precinct. Nice. I love the look of this show so far. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised on American cop procedurals, but this precinct is decidedly closer to the fictional-gritty look that I’m used to, rather than the sterile, office look that most Korean dramas use for police stations. (Although that’s closer to reality, but who cares about that when you can have awesome set design?)
He plops down on the couch and gives a meaningful glance over to his handy dandy board of unsolved cases, plastered with bloody pictures of stabbing victims, and a picture of a creepy man.
Said creepy man is being questioned right now, by their captain, KWON YOUNG-SOOL (JANG HANG-SUN), who doesn’t do much but offer him a cigarette, so I’m thinking either he’s got information they want, or they want his DNA.
Meanwhile, Min-joo, suitcase in tow, arrives at her friend’s apartment, where she’s about to let herself in. She’s interrupted by a topless man with a giant dragon tattoo, who’s taking out the trash while on his phone, talking to someone about murder. She naturally jumps to the conclusion that he’s a scary mobster hitman and that she’s overheard something she shouldn’t. So when he turns around and they lock eyes, she screams in terror, while he screams covering his bare chest. Haha.
She begs for her life, insisting that she didn’t hear anything, which is when the guy realizes what she’s thinking. He insists that the tattoos are fake, and even rubs one off to show her. He’s just coming off an undercover job, you see, because he’s a detective. He shows her his badge to prove it: NAM TAE-SHIK (SUNG JI-RU).
She rests at ease and tells him that she’s moving in downstairs with her friend, since she just got a new job. He gets interrupted by a call from the station: creepy man talked. He re-bares his chest in all the excitement, and then runs away screaming, like SHE’s the one being pervy. Ha. I already like this character.
He arrives with Sae-hyuk at an open field, where a massive search is underway. It yields another body, killed the same way as the others. It turns out that creepy guy back at the precinct is the serial killer himself, but he’s got the insanity plea behind him, which frustrates Sae-hyuk to no end. Captain reminds him that they’re not prosecutors or judges; they did their jobs in capturing the guy, and that’s all they can do.
Well, not if you’re a rogue cop, it’s not. He goes straight for the guy, insisting that he knows the insanity defense is just a ploy. The killer goes from acting crazy to straight up creepy, as he leans in close to whisper that he’s not going to jail, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
That’s enough to tip Sae-hyuk over the edge, and he covers the camera with his jacket, and then goes to town beating the crap out of the suspect. Ruh-roh. Tae-shik and Dong-jin rush in there to stop him, but the damage has already been done.
In turn, Captain beats the crap out of Sae-hyuk. (It’s like the Chain of Screaming, but different.) He suggests that if he wanted to fight so badly, he should’ve become a gangster instead of a cop.
He points out the stack of complaints filed against him, and all the trouble he’s gone to, trying to protect him from the potential lawsuits. Sae-hyuk just says he’ll quit then, since it doesn’t seem to matter what they do: thieves keep thieving, and killers keep killing.
Captain says he knows that his angst is due to his daughter’s death, the case that made him become a cop in the first place. (Groan. I know that it’s a staple to have this backstory motivation, no matter how predictable and overused. Fiiiiine. But does it have to be spelled out so blatantly by the Exposition Fairy? Gah.)
He insists he’s going to quit anyway, which I’m sure is something he says every other week, judging from his temper. Captain yells after him that he really should quit, since he’s days away from retirement anyway, plus the serial killer’s lawyer has already filed a lawsuit.
Min-joo settles into her friend’s apartment, and her roommate notices a picture that she carries around in a locket. She says that it’s her and her dad when she was little.
Min-joo goes to her first day on the job, which turns out to be a celebrity news website called Shocking.com. Haha. I like that she doesn’t start out as Lois Lane, but as the intern of a gossip rag (with some cheesy quippy side characters to boot). I’m thinking her journey to become a real reporter’s going to be the most interesting of all the characters.
She goes on her first assignment, a breaking story about an idol star involved in an assault. She heads to the police station and gets herself trampled just to get a good picture of the idol’s face (a cameo by an actual idol).
Inside, Tae-shik sits the people down—the woman who was beaten, the idol who supposedly did the beating, and an “innocent bystander” who witnessed the whole thing. Sae-hyuk wakes up from his nap (weren’t you, um, quitting?) and sees the setup right away. Just as she tells Tae-shik that she’s never seen the witness before, Sae-hyuk smoothly asks for her phone, and dials the first number. The guy’s phone rings. Pair of grifters. Case closed.
Sae-hyuk shows the idol the back way out, and the kid calls him “Teacher,” thanking him for his help. Hm. Teacher-turned-cop? Anyway, it’s clear that they actually know each other, and Sae-hyuk tells him never to step foot in here again.
Min-joo sees the whole thing, and snaps a picture of the two of them. Sae-hyuk chases her down, grabbing her by the collar like a little puppy. He snatches the memory card out of her camera and snaps it in half, returning it with a smile. She goes livid, but he ignores her rants, and she gets ousted from the precinct.
Later, the Captain’s retirement party is in full swing, as they drink and sing, and toast to his long career as a cop. The mood is happy, that is until Sae-hyuk gets a turn at the mic, and announces that as the Captain is getting pushed out due to old age, he’s walking out on his own two feet, as he sticks his resignation on his forehead.
All of a sudden the energy in the room gets sapped, as Sae-hyuk becomes a mess right in front of their eyes. Captain just sighs, and Sae-hyuk caps the night with a sad song. He walks through the streets, adrift and alone, and someone follows him, snapping pictures.
The next day, the squad attends the Captain’s retirement ceremony, but Sae-hyuk is nowhere to be found. Captain salutes with a heavy heart, looking at the empty seat where Sae-hyuk should be.
He’s at the cemetery instead, visiting his daughter Hye-in. He takes a picture of himself next to her ashes, and tells her he’s sorry he hasn’t been by, because he was busy catching bad guys. Okay, I’m such a sucker for the sincere dad talk.
We get a close-up of her picture, which is the EXACT SAME one that Min-joo carries. Well, that’s a surprise. That doesn’t work out, age-wise, at all. Does it? No. That’s crazy. He can’t be her father. That’s crazy, right?
Oh, I like this, because there’s clearly something fishy about what Min-joo’s been told about her past, and I hope it’s going to be an uncharacteristically bizarre connection. Either that or she’s a liar, which is equally interesting, truth be told.
As he tells his daughter that he’ll be by more frequently now that he’s giving up police work, a mysterious man appears. He doesn’t introduce himself, but just waits for Sae-hyuk to recognize him. He’s LEE DONG-SUK (LEE MIN-WOO), and it appears from their brief conversation that he lost someone in the same incident where Sae-hyuk lost his daughter.
He also talks about the fact that Sae-hyuk (whom he calls “Teacher”) has changed a lot in five years’ time, indicating the timeline. Well that solidifies that Min-joo can’t possibly be his daughter, so at least that impossible thread is off the table.
Dong-suk says that he’s spent the last five years trying to forget without success, and then starts veering toward the dangerous in his tone, as he wonders if Sae-hyuk hasn’t thought about revenge, and that he needn’t wait too long.
Back at the precinct, Old Captain ushers in New Captain. Enter JUNG IL-DO (LEE JONG-HYUK). Hot damn.
At the same time, the mysterious Dong-suk is being briefed on these same proceedings. Jung Il-do is named as the cop on the original case five years ago, and he’s also aware that Sae-hyuk is already a detective in that same precinct.
To solidify the badness (as if the dark warehouse wasn’t enough) the guy who was snapping pictures of Sae-hyuk the other night turns out to be one of Dong-suk’s lackeys. Hm. Gangster? International businessman hell-bent on revenge?
Sae-hyuk is haunted with happy memories of his daughter, and that man’s words that he doesn’t realize how much he’s changed in five years rings in his head. We can see that time basically stopped for him—all his plants are dead, and he shows all the signs of just barely making it through the day. He gets a call from Tae-shik to get his ass to work if he doesn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with the new boss, but he shouts that he’s not going.
Meanwhile, Min-joo is getting rained on at work for losing the photos of the idol star. I like the contrast in workspaces between the two main characters. Hers is so bright and colorful in contrast to Sae-hyuk’s dark surroundings.
She gets fired, but then asks for one last chance, if she can land a major interview, with the family of the serial killer’s latest victim. They laugh at her, since she’s an intern and well, they’re not exactly the newsiest newspaper in town.
But she heads over anyway, and ends up following the victim’s dad to another house. She jumps the fence and sneaks in, only to be confronted by…the mysterious Dong-suk? What the…what are you? Lawyer? Angry victim gatherer? Vigilante?
He kicks Min-joo out, and the victim’s father says that he’ll entrust everything to Dong-suk. Curiouser and curiouser.
Sae-hyuk shuffles into work, (Heh, I love that he always says no but ends up back at the precinct.) where Tae-shik gives him but one silent description of their new boss:
Sae-hyuk approaches with caution, and with his back turned, Il-do asks if he’s purposely avoiding the new boss on his first day. He then whirls around and asks if Sae-hyuk recognizes him.
Uh…I think he does. The others clear the room, and Sae-hyuk doesn’t mince words or bother with formalities. He straight up blames Il-do for his daughter’s death. It turns out that Il-do wasn’t the cop on that case; he was the cop who fired at his mark…only Sae-hyuk’s daughter was somehow caught in the crossfire.
Sae-hyuk grabs him by the collar, saying that he thought being a cop would help him understand a situation in which something like that could happen, but he still doesn’t see one. Il-do stands by his actions, with zero remorse, which is really the rub, isn’t it? If he were haunted with guilt over it, Sae-hyuk would understand, but he can’t, because this guy is cold as ice.
He tells Sae-hyuk to start acting like a cop if he is one, which of course prompts him to resign…AGAIN. Looks like this is going to have to be a drinking game. He quits! Drink!
He starts to unload his cop accoutrements, but the captain stops him. Until the resignation gets filed through the system, he’s still responsible for the people on his team. So back to work he goes.
A flashback shows us what happened that day, when Sae-hyuk was on his way to meet his daughter, sitting at a coffee shop. Il-do was chasing someone down, and ended up shooting at a car coming straight for him. The driver swerved and ran right into the café, killing the little girl.
Oh, so it’s not like she took a bullet or anything, straight out of the guy’s gun. And we also see that Il-do is not as cold-hearted as he lets on. Alone, he faces that coffee shop with a heavy weight on his shoulders.
Back in the present, a gang of clowns robs a bank at gunpoint. I mean they’re dressed like clowns, a la The Dark Knight, not you know, actual clowns. Well, there’s nothing like a fresh crime to get a team back on its feet.
Right after the bank heist, another case pops up with the same weaponry used: this time gunmen (who we recognize as Dong-suk’s thugs) kidnap the serial killer. Dude, is this guy ACTUALLY a vigilante? Crazy. And I like it.
Sae-hyuk and the team start piecing things together, realizing that the bank heist was just a front for murder. At the same time, Min-joo gets a flash drive in the mail. She takes a look, and it’s videos, of both victims, fully admitting to their crimes before being executed.
Whoa. Dark. This guy’s like Batman AND The Joker, all rolled into one. The squad watches the video, which Shocking.com has put online. Sae-hyuk watches curiously, as the masked man at the end announces to the camera that the world has stopped caring about the victims and their pain.
Meanwhile, Il-do heads out to meet with his superiors, when he gets stalled at a light, and then a man stops in front of his car, slumping to the ground. Don’t get out of the car! Don’t get out of the car!
Aaaaargh, he gets out of the car. He gets sprayed down with a sedative and put back in his car, and Dong-suk quietly kidnaps him.
Sae-hyuk goes to question Shocking.com, and ends up hauling them all off to jail, because he gets the call that the Captain’s missing. While in jail, Min-joo’s co-worker points out the coincidence—how can she, of all people, someone who’s only had a business card for all of one day, be the person who gets that video?
That sparks her memory—there’s only one person she’s ever given her business card to, and it was the guy who kicked her out when she was trying to snag that interview. He had said the same things that night, that people don’t understand a victim’s circumstance. She recognizes the voice on the video as his.
At the same time, Sae-hyuk watches the video over and over, and something in the guy’s word choice sounds familiar. He mulls it over until he remembers that the man at the cemetery had said the same thing about revenge healing pain.
He tells the team to look back at his daughter’s case five years ago, where there was another victim—someone’s fiancée. They find out Dong-suk’s identity that way, but can’t find a current address.
But Min-joo comes bounding over to tell him that she knows where he lives. They head in, but Dong-suk is already waiting for them. Sae-hyuk finds a laptop, next to framed pictures of the fiancée and his daughter.
Dong-suk calls to tell him to watch the video. On it, Il-do confesses that they died because of him, and that he did it because he didn’t want to let that culprit go, because he’d kill again.
Dong-suk adds that his fiancée was five months pregnant at the time. He asks if Sae-hyuk can really say that he isn’t responsible, and offers a choice: Jung Il-do or the serial killer. Only one gets to live.
Sae-hyuk grabs the laptop and rushes out, before the team can catch up. But Tae-shik sees the picture of his daughter, and guesses the score. Sae-hyuk drives his angst out, trying to decide what to do, and finally decides to call the team.
They follow Dong-suk’s instructions, ending up at that same corner of the initial incident. He tells them that they have to kill the serial killer there, in order for Il-do to go free. He then sends the serial killer in a car, driving straight at them, and Sae-hyuk finds himself in the exact same position as Il-do, on that fateful day.
He starts to waver, and then he points his gun ahead. He looks back at the coffee shop, and then it triggers a thought. He yells that it’s a trap, just as the van speeds toward them.
I really like the setup, and I’m surprised that the story ends up as dark as it is. The initial humor made me settle in, thinking it was going to be light and jokey, but then they did one of my favorite things tonally, which is use humor to buoy dark themes, as well as surprise us narratively.
The tone is definitely the freshest thing about this show, but the cast deserves a mention too, because it’s quite effectively balanced with a cast where everyone can do both comedy and weightier drama. The end result is a rich set of characters that we’re curious about, where no one sticks out like sore thumb.
The backstory with the daughter could have been introduced more effectively (I hate it when characters just speak things instead of letting us figure things out organically) but the ensuing complication with the new Captain and the crazy vigilante was actually quite effective. It’s a little too neat, but I like that the show starts right out of the gate with a big punch, rather than some soft case that’s got nothing to do with anything.
This way, the characters have personal stakes, everyone’s effectively linked, and now they have to get out of this mess together. I don’t know if it’s going to be a series that merits episode-by-episode recapping, but we’ll see how things shake out.
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