It’s a new era at NSS! I started with IRIS over three years ago, moved on to Athena, and now here is IRIS 2. It’s a full circle… unless of course they decide to make an IRIS 3, and an Artemis, or ARES, or Hercules… Then my circle won’t ever complete. A quick note that I haven’t decided to fully recap this series, mainly because two rounds of the same thing are enough. But episode 2 could make or break this series for me.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We begin with a recap of IRIS, where NSS and IRIS are pitted against each other in a war of nuclear terror. IRIS the organization managed to convince North Korea to threaten South Korea with nuclear weapons in the hopes that a war would erupt, a coup would occur, and IRIS could take control. But then Baek San (Kim Young-chul) was revealed to be a traitor within NSS, and was finally taken down and arrested. And before you could think that all was well, Kim Hyun-joon is killed.
They reveal that the killer is none other than… Rei (David McInnis), former mercenary-now IRIS team leader, with a woman we later learn is Kim Yun-hwa (Im Soo-hyang).
Three years later.
New NSS section chief Park Joon-han (Sung Dong Il) keeps tabs on a secret ammunitions deal taking place in a warehouse through a spycam. He has his men approach cautiously as the buyer expresses his displeasure over the illegal goods. It’s not as much ammunition as he had expected.
Suddenly, a huge dump truck slams into the brick wall, interrupting the deal. Though his men are alarmed, Chief Park looks unfazed. Jung Yoo-gun (Jang Hyuk) steps out of the front seat, and is greeted with guns pointed at his face. Buyer laughs – is Yoo-gun all by himself? Easier to take down then!
In slo-mo action worthy of Vampire Prosecutor, Yoo-gun systematically takes down each guy – uppercut to the jaw; punch in the gut; knock a guy to the side; throw another by his collar. Flying kick’s a must. Buyer makes a run for it, grabbing his money, so Yoo-gun makes chase. Chief Park shouts into his walkie-talkie “What the hell are you guys doing!?” and suddenly his men spring to action, entering the warehouse.
Buyer escapes to his car, so Yoo-gun takes the next available unlocked car. (And this is why cars that have a button ignition are easier to steal…) Commence chase through a container terminal, except Yoo-gun stealthily searches for the buyer, who’s parked himself quietly behind containers, hoping to hide in the shadows. Yoo-gun drives right past him… Buyer lets out a sigh of relief… but then Yoo-gun slowly backs up the car. Found you.
Yoo-gun steps out, which prompts Buyer to speed forward in the hopes of crushing him. Yoo-gun calmly fires a choice shot in the back wheel of the car with his gun, and causes it to flip over. Bills of money fly out of the sunroof dramatically, and Buyer is caught.
Chief Park finds himself in a little tiff with the Seoul Regional Investigation Unit over whose jurisdiction this case is taking place in. But no matter, Yoo-gun brings Buyer over in handcuffs. Chief Park aims his gun at Yoo-gun and smirks, asking if he knows the man he just handcuffed. It’s as if they’re putting on a little show of not knowing each other too well so that NSS won’t be blamed for interfering too much.
Yoo-gun doesn’t appreciate getting a gun pointed at him, and we get a flashback to 15 years ago, where high schooler Yoo-gun (played by Park Gun-tae) is getting picked on by school bullies. Instead of running, he fights back, taking four guys at once. Not bad – where’d he learn these skills? He punches one of them to a pulp, and of course they all land at the police station. The man who raised him, whom I’ll call Ahjussi for now, (Joo Jin-mo) comes to pick him up.
It’s already quite routine for them, with Ahjussi using his position as a police officer to bail Yoo-gun out. He can only do this for a few more years until he retires. He wonders if Yoo-gun likes fighting because he has no father, but Yoo-gun doesn’t; he just can’t help it sometimes… In Ahjussi’s experience, people in his school either became gangsters or cops; maybe Yoo-gun could be a cop and then he could beat up bad guys all the time!
Ji Soo-yeon (played by Kim So-hyun, and later by Lee Da-hae) shows up at the restaurant, calling Yoo-gun ‘oppa’. She’s not surprised that he’s fought again, but Yoo-gun seems uncomfortable about her proximity. Cute. She offers to take care of his bullies for him, because no one should hurt her oppa!
Several years later, older Yoo-gun visits Ahjussi at his cabin in the woods to catch up, and informs him that NSS is recruiting him. Ahjussi is wary about this offer, and it looks like he knows something. Later that evening, he opens up his journal, where he chronicles Yoo-gun’s achievements as he grew up. On one page, he writes: “Jung Yoo-gun scouted by NSS. Is this fate?” Hmm…
Yoo-gun accepts entrance into NSS, and then we suddenly skip to the snowy mountains, where several agents have been shot dead. One agent drags a wounded agent across the snow, leaving a messy trail. Soo-yeon and Seo Hyun-woo (Yoon Doo-joon) are a sniper team and count the dead from a distance; most of their teammates are dead and they’re the only ones left. There’s only one on the other team, so they decide to split up. They search in the woods, and a stranger follows them, stepping into their already-made footprints. The stranger stabs Hyun-woo, and takes over his rifle to aim at Soo-yeon.
She radios Hyun-woo to make sure the area is secure, but instead hears Yoo-gun’s voice: “I thought I made it clear it’s suicidal to go out in the open.” (Yeah, when you’re wearing black and walking through white snow.) She turns her gun and aims in his direction, but he shoots her first. He radios to the team, and all the dead start waking up from their positions in the snow – this was all a training session.
Kang Byung-jin (Baek Sung-hyun) shivers violently, pissed that he’s been out in the cold snow. Yoon Shi-hyuk (Lee Joon) replies: “You weren’t even dead that long! I was dead for three hours!” HEE! [Edit: It's Byung-jin who was dead for three hours. I can't tell who Lee Joon is for my life. Apologies.]
Chief Park celebrates the completion of their training with some beer over a campfire. They tease each other over their failures, laughing jovially, but Yoo-gun satisfies himself by watching from afar. A level higher than all the trainees, he supervises their training drills in Jeju. They’re a tightly knit group, we learn.
Soo-yeon excels, and it’s clear she and Yoo-gun only have eyes for each other. Of course, Hyun-woo has eyes on her, and he doesn’t want to hurt her when they have their judo test. Clearly he’s not trying very hard to beat her, but she’s not strong enough to beat him. Yoo-gun stops their match: they must either face each other as if the other were a real threat, or get disqualified. This time, Hyun-woo shows her no mercy, and successfully makes her tap out several times. Of course that angers her, because that is more points against her. Before she can get up and do it again, Yoo-gun stops their fight.
Later that evening, Yoo-gun and Soo-yeon go out to a fancy restaurant, where clearly she’s still frustrated over the day’s events. Yoo-gun: “Oh really? *eats* Whyyy?” Haha – cheeky. Did she really expect to be given a handicap just because she was a girl? Soo-yeon pretends to be “cool” about this; fine – if he’s going to fail her because of her judo test score, she’ll just try again the following year. She’ll never give up!
And then next thing you know, she’s drunk over a lot of wine. Yoo-gun calls up her father and reports to him that she definitely scored high enough to make it in. Her father is concerned that she’ll get hurt, being a secret agent, but Yoo-gun promises to watch over her.
Cambodia. A boxing match begins, and Yoo Joong-won (Lee Beom-soo) is in the crowds, betting away his money. He doesn’t notice the sexy, stilettoed Yun-hwa watching him lose his money from afar. Stalking off in anger with his few remaining bills, he heads to a gambling parlor for a round of poker, and goes all in, thinking he’ll win the pot by bluffing. Not so fast – another player reveals he has a straight. Joong-won loses it all again, and finally realizes that Yun-hwa is standing beside him, asking if he really escaped North Korea just to gamble his life away.
It takes him a moment to finally recognize her. At a private bar, he wonders how she found out he was in Cambodia. Turns out he has quite the reputation as an information dealer. She needs his help, and wants him to go with her to Budapest. Joong-won thinks this is a joke. He chased her for years and she ignored him, but now she wants his help? And it turns out she had plastic surgery to completely change and disguise herself.
He’s not interested in hearing what Yun-hwa had to do to escape the North. He’s no longer the Joong-won she knew before, so she might as well stop wasting her time with him. Yun-hwa: “Do you still like me?” Oh really now? All of a sudden Joong-won dramatically admits she’s “ensnared his heart once again!” but she knows he’s just playing around.
She promises him a large sum of money after the mission, but he rejects her. He calls for the bill, realizes he can’t pay, and leaves it for her to pick up.
Back at NSS, Byung-jin bursts into the office and says that the new deputy director of NSS is coming. Coming from a stint at the Pentagon, Choi Min (Oh Yun-soo) is introduced to Yoon-gun’s team, the Task Force A-team (TFA). They handle most of the field assignments that have to do with the Far East Asian countries. She then meets with a higher official, Kang Chul-hwan (Kim Il-woo), and reveals that she plans to use NSS to fight IRIS. If NSS isn’t good enough of a weapon, she’ll ditch.
As soon as she sits in her office chair, she asks her secretary for all the case files on NSS’ secret missions, profiles for all the active agents, and files related to Baek San.
After some research, she heads over to the Blue House to meet with President Ha Seung-jin (Jo Sung-ha) over her findings on NSS and what its mission was (primarily to manage the nuclear development program). But NSS also had all the “black agents” – the ones that did the dirty killings and performed cover-ups over assassinations. Her belief is that Baek San holds all the secrets to NSS. President Ha refers her to meet former president Jo Myung-ho to find out those secrets. It was his understanding that President Jo had been fully briefed, even though there is no written record. It should be easier than making Baek San talk.
A flashback reveals that President Jo knew that the nuclear development was near completion, but Baek San never gave confirmation. Instead, he had all the nuclear scientists involved killed, and thus is the only one with the key to the truth.
Pretending to be NSS, an IRIS team led by Rei helicopters to the remote island jail where Baek San is held. Rei steps out of the helicopter and is greeted by the guards, who weren’t expecting him to arrive so soon. They lead him into the depths of the jail, through corridors of locked security gates.
In solitary confinement, Baek San sits in his high-security jail cell, reading a book. An IRIS agent left back on the helicopter snipes down a guard at the watch tower. As soon as the last gate leading to Baek San’s cell opens, Rei’s men shoot the guards down. They quickly and effectively eliminate every single one of the guards with their machine guns, setting off bombs in their offices. Yeah – I’m sure Baek San heard all that.
Gunfight in the halls; bombs exploding behind the IRIS agents randomly; Rei skipping over a rolling dead body – if I didn’t know that the IRIS guys were evil, they would look like total badass superheroes right now. One of his men manages to infiltrate the surveillance room and unlock Baek San’s cell.
The lights turn on, and we find that Baek San is in a cage, isolated in the middle of a square, empty room. (I didn’t know Baek San and Magneto were considered one and the same.) Baek San is simply waiting to be escorted out.
They get on the helicopter, and once in flight Baek San unbuckles his belt to tie up a wounded agent’s bandage. He then grasps the boy’s neck, and craaack – kills him in one swift twist. The other agent attacks him, but Baek San twists his arm and then shoots him down. Rei pulls out his gun – which still has one bullet – but Baek San shoots first… and kills the pilot. He pulls open the door and freaking jumps out without a parachute into the cold sea below. WHAT!?
Unable to see him, and the plane going down quick, Rei fastens himself onto the pilot seat and quickly steers the helicopter back upright, and flies off.
At this point, the real NSS helicopter carrying Yoo-gun arrives on the island, and they see what’s left of the jail. Soo-yeon and Hyun-woo also join him, and they split up to confirm the security of the island and investigate what happened. Hyun-woo goes high, climbing the cell tower. Soo-yeon goes low, checking the shore. She finds a strange lump in the sand being washed over by the waves.
As Yoo-gun reports into headquarters over the status of the situation, he senses a presence behind him. He pulls out his gun – and aims at the person behind Soo-yeon; it’s Baek San, who has his own gun trained at her. A whisper into his earpiece, and Hyun-woo is alerted. He quickly sets up his sniper gun.
Baek San wants to speak with Chief Park alone. Hyun-woo is already at the ready, and counts down from three. Just before he reaches one, Soo-yeon spots him and grimaces. Yoo-gun tells him to hold fire, but Soo-yeon ducks down to allow Hyun-woo to shoot. Baek San quickly pulls her back up, and Hyun-woo ends up shooting Soo-yeon. They both go down.
Baek San is taken in nevertheless back to headquarters, and Yoo-gun interrogates him while he has a lot of wires taped up to his brain. It infuriates Yoo-gun that he’s not answering the most basic questions, and Hyun-woo can tell that Soo-yeon’s injury is affecting his ability to interrogate.
Chief Park realizes he needs to step in and trades places with Yoo-gun. They seem to have known each other in the past, when Baek San was still director. Chief Park wants to know why Baek San surrendered to NSS, but Baek San taunts him: “Isn’t that your job to find out?” Since he’ll be imprisoned for a while again, Baek San has one request: to get daily copies of The New York Post, Washington Daily, and The Moscow Times. Chief Park doesn’t want to give it to him, but Baek San hints that relenting to his request will be the way to find out why he surrendered.
Yoo-gun and Hyun-woo visit Soo-yeon in the hospital, where she’s still unconscious. He receives a call from Mr. Ji and updates the father on her condition. Her parents had dreaded for this moment, but knew this day would come. After he hangs up, he reassures Hyun-woo that she’ll be okay, and that he would have done the same thing in his position.
That evening, Yoo-gun tries to access more information on Baek San through the NSS servers, but his access is denied for this top level information. Left with no new leads, they then escort Baek San to the nearest safe house, Camp KC, in an armored truck and a security detail; Yoo-gun opts to sit in the truck with Baek San.
In the surveillance room, Chief Park fills Yoo-gun in on Baek San’s history as a top agent from the CIA before coming to NSS. Yoo-gun requests access to Baek San’s file, but of course he’s not getting any. On the TV screens, Baek San stares into their eyes through the cameras, aware that they’re currently watching his every move.
Security is on him 24/7 as Hyun-woo watches Baek San’s every meticulous movement. Hyun-woo analyzes his newspapers and Baek San’s eye movements to find clues into what he could be planning with IRIS – perhaps through codes.
Back at NSS, head of scientific research Oh Hyun-kyu (Yoon Joo-sang is back!) is still obsessing over his stocks. Chief Park interrupts his trading for the results on his analysis on the newspaper codes. But there are no results. There’s nothing weird with what he’s reading.
At Camp KC, Yoo-gun delivers more newspapers to Baek San and new reading glasses. Making small talk, Baek San asks after Soo-yeon’s condition. Yoo-gun merely bows politely and takes away the old papers. I bet those glasses are actually spy glasses so that it can track what Baek San is looking at better.
At an IRIS hideout, Yun-hwa hands Rei a phone. Mr. Black gives Rei the go-ahead for Operation X. The men suit up and head out.
Chief Park returns to Camp KC with no new results on the code; it’s possible Baek San is just trying to confuse them and throw them off his scent. Byung-jin did have a theory that the headlines and pictures could be connected, but they have no solid evidence. Chief Park then sends Hyun-woo back to headquarters; they issued a new ID card for him because he lost his old one. HAR HAR – since when were agents so careless?!
That evening, Yoo-gun does a double check on security and has everyone report in. Cameras are on, but they don’t notice the two SUV’s of IRIS agents rolling up. Yun-hwa and a fellow agent have put the surveillance cameras on a loop, so it looks like nothing has changed outside the camp. One by one, they silently take down every single guard, and throw gas bombs into the security room. One agent manages to press the alert button, but NSS doesn’t realize they’re under attack right away. After all – the cameras show nothing.
And yet, the IRIS agents inch ever closer to Baek San’s cell once again.
Interesting first episode, but frankly not quite thrilling. But that’s also a good thing! This episode has been able to set up a the plot for future episodes. It’s given us a background on the characters so we can understand their relationships, and it also set up the investigation into IRIS and Baek San. Their new director has a straight motive to take down IRIS; we don’t know her beef against the organization, but we know that’s her goal. We also know that IRIS is desperately trying to get Baek San back – perhaps to punish him for his last failure – but we don’t know Mr. Black’s endgame with Baek San. While there are certain things where we must hold our disbelief (an agent losing his ID card?!) because there is no way that NSS agents could be that idiotic, being believable was never this franchise’s strong point. At this point, I automatically overlook them.
Now for the cast. I hope that this drama will not completely waste its cast as it did with Athena. Here, Jang Hyuk is a good fit for the spy role, as he’s excelled in playing gruff, stoic men who also have a sense of humor. Because he’s already a leader in NSS, it’s more believable when he breaks the rules, rather than if he were a low-ranking agent. (That was pretty much Jung Woo-sung‘s character in Athena.) Yoon Doo-joon exceeded my expectations – because I had no expectations for him as an actor. Lee Da-hae hasn’t had the chance to show a terrible amount of range just yet; Lee Joon and Baek Sung-hyun are my new bromance buddies. Lee Beom-soo has never disappointed me, and so I hope he doesn’t with his role either. All in all – everyone can play these roles straight, and it’ll be fine. I’m hoping for a little more depth and subtlety, but we’ll have to see.
I am definitely eager to know more about Yun-hwa’s deal, since her background profile details her as Sun-hwa’s younger sister. How she ended up on the IRIS organization would be an interesting tale to see, because she had to completely change her face to run away from the North Korean spies. In IRIS, Sun-hwa (Kim So-yeon) had said that her mother and siblings died because of her, so how did Yun-hwa end up being part of the North Korean agents? Her relationship with Joong-won, and Joong-won’s defection of North Korea are both plot points I want to follow – and once again the North Korean agents are stealing the show…
I am quite impressed that director Pyo Min-soo managed to pull off this action drama when he tends to do rom-coms (see Coffee House, or You’ve Fallen for Me, or Full House). There are moments where the scenes go a little too overboard in cheesy (see the remote island jail break-in), but there were some cinematic touches that made it special: the blood on the grass, the fight sequence in the warehouse, the mostly quiet chase scene through the container terminal, the car flipping. Unfortunately, the editing is quite awkward. It bluntly cuts from one scene to the next and at times is confusing in regards to the time line. I understand that they’re trying to hit a lot of plot points as quickly as possible, but it was quite jarring because I didn’t know what was next or what to expect.
We’ll have to see if IRIS 2 can live up to its predecessors – or perhaps surpass them all. After all, third time’s a charm, right?
- Badassery and hijinks on the set of IRIS 2
- Jung Seok-won and Yoon So-yi join IRIS 2
- 7 new character posters for IRIS 2
- IRIS 2’s main promo poster
- Baek Sung-hyun joins IRIS 2 as genius hacker
- IRIS 2 begins shooting
- Lee Beom-soo and Yoon Doo-joon join IRIS 2
- IRIS 2 secures cast and crew
- IRIS 2 goes on a casting spree
- Lee Da-hae and Jang Hyuk to reunite for IRIS 2?