We’ve decided to pick up Police Unit 38 for recaps, so I’m here to help do some catching up. We learn more about our resident con-man Jung-do in this episode, as well as why he’s targeting Sung-il and the other men he’s been conning. There’s more to Sung-il as well — he’s more than just a pushover with a terrible job and there is a backbone in there somewhere, deep down. There’s a lot of new characters to introduce, so let’s hope I can keep everything straight!
EPISODE 2 RECAP
After being scammed for his life savings, Sung-il drowns his sorrows with his detective friend PARK DEOK-BAE (Oh Man-seok). Deok-bae is amused that Sung-il fell for the scam and teases him mercilessly, then backs off and says it could happen to anyone.
He wonders if it could be the same guy that recently scammed several of Sung-il’s coworkers… possibly even someone they know. He offers to catch the guy as a favor to his friend, and starts by getting the number Sung-il has for his scammer.
Jung-do looks much more subdued when he visits his father, who happens to be in prison and whom he hasn’t seen in nine years. His father is completely unresponsive to Jung-do’s caring questions, though the guard kindly reports that his health is better.
Dad finally raises his eyes to Jung-do’s with difficulty, then gets up to leave without saying a word. Jung-do calls out to him, asking why he won’t talk, but he doesn’t turn back around and leaves Jung-do tearing up with frustration.
Jung-do gets a call and meets with SA JAE-SUNG (Jung In-ki), an undercover cop who is his father’s close friend, though the presence of several more undercover cops in the park makes Jung-do nervous. Jae-sung asks after Jung-do’s father, guessing he’s not speaking out of heartbreak, and asks what Jung-do is up to now that he’s out of jail.
Jung-do is vague, just saying that he’s got something to finish up, and Jae-sung warns him not to keep in touch with any of his inmate “friends.” Jung-do says that his inmate friends are all he has, since he couldn’t go to the army, being an ex-convict.
Jae-sung’s target arrives and the cops in the park go to work, while Jae-sung takes a moment to tell Jung-do that he’s gotten this far because he focuses on catching his man. He hates criminals’ lame excuses for why they commit crimes, which is why he was able to put Jung-do himself in jail despite being his friend’s son.
They watch as the bad guy is captured, and Jae-sung warns Jung-do that he won’t let him go if he catches Jung-do committing crimes again. He sounds like a father himself as he says, “In your father’s place, let me walk you down the aisle, not lead you to prison.”
Jung-do looks suitably chastened and bows respectfully — but as soon as he leaves, he calls Mi-joo to ask her to get her hands on some cars for him. Bad boy.
Sung-il’s team is amused to see him wearily fending off the begging of a tax evader, who wants his amount owed cut down. A former coworker comes in looking like a big-shot, bragging that his tax accounting business is going well, though nearly everyone looks annoyed to see him.
Having heard that Sung-il punched the wealthy tax evader Ma Jin-seok, he’s here to take Sung-il to lunch and offer advice. He likens Sung-il to the worker ant who attacks the queen ant, trying to get the big payout, when he could just go after the people who make less money. They’re not as strong and can’t fight back, but their taxes will add up.
Sung-il doesn’t agree with the man’s take on how society should work, with the “worker ants” doing all the heavy lifting while the “queen ants,” the rich people, are allowed to do what they want because they stimulate the economy. But he forgets all about that when he’s led into a private dining room, to find Ma Jin-seok waiting for them. Sung-il sits down reluctantly, but it gets worse, as Jin-seok slides him the key to a new car.
Sung-il recalls how Jin-seok paid his housekeeper to drink a full bottle of water, sneering that people can be easily manipulated with money. This is an obvious bribe to get Sung-il to let Jin-seok off the hook for his taxes.
As both men watch him expectantly, Sung-il begins to laugh. He asks his old coworker if Jin-seok is supposed to be one of those queen ants he was talking about. Sung-il says that Jin-seok looks like he lays good eggs, wishes him luck with his egg-laying, and excuses himself.
His former coworker chases him down, but Sung-il says this isn’t right — he has no reason to eat with a man who has so much and doesn’t pay his taxes. The other man urges him to just stay a little while, get a car out of the deal, then let this whole thing go.
Sung-il looks like he’s thinking about it, but instead he asks who he’s supposed to collect taxes from, then. The poor people who already have so little? His old coworker says that’s their fate, but Sung-il quietly says that’s not for him to decide.
He gets a call from his cop buddy Deok-bae, who leads him to a room full of men who are clearly up to no good. Deok-bae says they should get this over with quickly, but another man enters the room and things grow tense.
There’s a brief fight, then suddenly Sung-il, Deok-bae, and the two shady men in charge are sitting together, companionably eating jjajangmyun. The subordinate (cameo by Kim Sung-oh), looking hilariously beat-up and very contrite, says that the number Deok-bae gave him was a burner phone registered under a foreigner’s name.
They give the address of the burner phone provider to Sung-il to look into, though he’s nervous to go check it out alone. The leader, sporting a bloody nose (another cameo by Park Sung-woong), politely offers to give them a call to tell them to cooperate.
Jung-do tells Mi-joo that these cars are for “insurance,” and they take a swanky one out for a drive. Mi-joo comments that jail made Jung-do soft if he’s worrying about the future, but he just cryptically says that he didn’t get out of prison for no reason.
The address Sung-il is looking for happens to be at a meat market, and he’s taken to a filthy basement where scary-looking men are butchering meat with frighteningly sharp tools. He tries to lie to their leader that he’s a detective investigating a fraud case, but he’s not fooling anyone.
The men all laugh at his sloppy cover story, and the leader orders him taken out. Sung-il angrily shakes the men off him and says he was trying to be polite, and pulls age rank on the leader. The man apologizes and orders him respectfully taken out, ha.
Sung-il shakes them off again, obviously fighting his temper, and grabs the leader’s lapels. He’s not exactly intimidating, but he’s acting just erratic enough that the men back away from him as a group, so he starts chasing them with a chair and threatening them, insisting that he’s a cop. This shouldn’t be as funny as it is. Sung-il terrifies the men so badly (ha, the big one just hides his face in the corner) that they hand over the information he wants with no more trouble.
He heads back to Deok-bae with the information, and Deok-bae is amused by how brave Sung-il is feeling after his success. He tells Sung-il about a detective named Park Doo-gil who’s currently working on a case regarding people who buy and sell personal information.
He found a strange file in one detective agency that belonged to a guy named Noh Joong-shik. All the detective knows is that Noh Joong-shik is in jail, and he asked for the information to be compiled and sent to him. Deok-bae has the file now, and Sung-il is shocked to see his name in among the list of people — as well as Ma Jin-seok’s.
Jung-do consults his list of instructions from his prison acquaintance, and next up is someone named Cho Sang-jin, former City Hall financial instructor. He also happens to be the jerk who tried to help Jin-seok bribe Sung-il, and Jung-do watches from across the street as Cho Sang-jin bullies a poor valet driver outside his office building.
Jung-do watches a pair of children sharing a bowl of instant ramyun, the older boy letting his little sister eat the bulk while fingering the scant change in his pocket. Next thing you know, the kids are chowing down on a table-full of food, awww. Jung-do pats the boy on the head then makes a call to someone, asking for a list of National Tax Service employees.
Jung-do goes shopping for a nice suit, slicks up his hair, and dons a pair of glasses, effectively changing his whole look. On his way out, a woman seems to recognize him, but she shakes it off and moves on.
Cho Sang-jin is apparently just as much an ass of a boss as he is a person, berating his employees loudly and throwing their work across the office. Apparently, his employee didn’t cook the books to his satisfaction for a favored client, even though she tries to explain why any further effort would only get them flagged for an audit. Wow, he’s not even trying to hide his illegal dealings.
Cho Sang-jin gets distressingly personal with this female employee, crossing the line well into sexual harassment, but luckily he’s called out to meet with Jung-do, who’s impersonating a National Tax Service employee. Sang-jin quickly sends a text to a contact asking about the name Jung-do gave him, and grows nervous when Jung-do starts naming the names of his clients that he’s helping to evade their taxes.
He gets back a confirmation that the name Jung-do gave is valid, and starts answering Jung-do’s questions. He says that this kind of thing happens all the time, and after a short lecture, Jung-do gives him this secret little smile and implies that they’re on the same side.
He starts playing to Sang-jin’s vanity, calling him “sunbae-nim” and asking for his help to excel in his new job at the National Tax Service. Sang-jin plays right into his hands, agreeing to “help” and asking for his bank information. Once back at his home base, Jung-do uses another burner phone to call Sang-jin again, and it’s that phone that detective Deok-bae has been waiting for him to use.
Deok-bae calls Sung-il with the good news — they’ve got his scammer. He tells Sung-il that he’s on the way to the phone’s location with some men, and warns Sung-il not to get excited and go in alone.
Sung-il heads towards Jung-do’s location, but he gets several calls from his wife, who isn’t happy that he took the car. He throws down his headphones and drives erratically, and all the while Jung-do is still on the phone, blowing smoke up his new sunbae-nim’s skirt and playing dumb about things like online banking, ha.
Jung-do finally hangs up, and leaves the burner phone behind as he leaves the building with a small suitcase. He’s busy texting in the lobby when Sung-il (ignoring Deok-bae’s instructions to wait for him) bumps into him, and the two men recognize each other at the same time. While Sung-il is stammering his surprise, Jung-do throws his bag at his face and runs for it.
Sung-il manages to keep up admirably as Jung-do runs out of the building and down the street — until he hurdles a bench, which then trips up Sung-il. Jung-do stops to laugh, but Sung-il pops right back up and gives chase again. Jung-do takes off in one of his “insurance” cars, but Sung-il doesn’t give up, and follows the car long enough to get the license plate number.
Deok-bae picks up Sung-il and they follow Jung-do in a car, calling out an all-points-bulletin on his license number. Deok-bae drives like a badass and manages to close in on Jung-do, but Jung-do pulls over and switches to another of his burner cars. Luckily, Sung-il recognizes him as he passes them going the other way, and they whip around to resume the chase.
Jung-do is blocked off by a car, which slows him down and allows Deok-bae to catch up and slam into his back bumper, trying to push him off the road. Jung-do doesn’t give up, but he’s eventually hemmed in by several more cop cars, with his only way out straight ahead — and straight through Deok-bae and Sung-il.
Jung-do takes that chance and guns the motor, and Deok-bae meets the challenge and heads right for him. The two cars accelerate as they grow closer and closer, neither willing to lose this high-stakes game of Chicken (though Sung-il is screaming bloody murder). But at the last second it’s Jung-do who swerves and plows right into a lamppost. Jung-do is okay, if a bit banged-up, and the police easily capture him.
The woman who looked as if she recognized Jung-do calls Sung-hee to tell her that she thinks she saw “him,” and Sung-hee freezes when she hears the name Yang Jung-do. Oooh… is he the one who conned her, too?
Deok-bae lectures Jung-do as he’s booking him at the police station, and informs him that he conned Sung-il by accident. Jung-do laughs wryly as he realizes he was supposed to con the other Baek Sung-il from the same tax office. When asked why, Jung-do simply says that he swindled those men because they’re evil, and Deok-bae snickers that he must think that makes him a good man.
They ask him why Ma Jin-seok is on the list of targets, since he’s not a corrupt public official like the others. Jung-do just repeats that he’s evil, and notices that Sung-il seems to know him. He realizes that Sung-il must be after Jin-seok for tax evasion, does some quick calculations on how much prison time he’ll do for this, and starts to get an idea.
Jung-do asks Sung-il how much Ma Jin-seok owes in taxes, and comments that Jin-seok won’t give up such a huge amount easily. Fed up with his antics, Sung-il says to just lock him up, but Jung-do offers to help him catch Jin-seok: “I have an idea. Care to hear it?”
Later Deok-bae and Sung-il soak at the spa, and Sung-il denies that he’s considering Jung-do’s idea even though he obviously is. Deok-bae mentions that he’s turning Jung-do over to a prosecutor in the morning, and it will be too late after that.
The Baek Sung-il that Jung-do was supposed to scam gets a concerning phone call, and he calls Commissioner Ahn, Sung-il’s weaselly boss. Sung-hee stops our Sung-il when he gets back to the office and tries to convince him to go home early, but he pushes past her, only to see everyone in the building giving him the side-eye.
Apparently someone reported that our Sung-il’s been taking bribes, though at least Sung-hee defends him, saying that he wouldn’t do any such thing. The other Sung-il comes to brag that it’s true, and he took the call himself, but before our Sung-il can say anything in his defense, he’s called to meet with Commissioner Ahn on the golf course.
Sung-il insists that he didn’t take any bribes, and that he even knows who reported him — it was almost certainly Ma Jin-seok. Commissioner Ahn doesn’t even consider his explanation and says that he’ll probably get jail time, and that he doesn’t need to apologize to him. He needs to apologize to Jin-seok, who’s right there practicing his swing.
The situation is made crystal-clear — if Sung-il apologizes to Jin-seok, all of this will go away. Sung-il marvels that Commissioner Ahn is in Jin-seok’s pocket, and Commissioner Ahn brings up Sung-il’s brother-in-law Min-shik, the one who died six years ago. “He was too stubborn,” Ahn says.
Commissioner Ahn flat-out says that Sung-il will end up like Min-shik soon, and Sung-il asks if this is what he did to Min-shik back then. But he doesn’t hang around for the answer, and walks away while Jin-seok calls after Sung-il to say that he can play with them if he wants. I don’t think he’s talking about golf.
Sung-il remembers that Min-shik had been beside himself, swearing that he never took bribes. Sung-il hadn’t been sure, and Min-shik had looked so betrayed that his friend didn’t trust him. He’d begged for Sung-il’s help, but Sung-il had turned his back on him.
Now Sung-il joins Sung-hee and his team out in the field, where they’re miserably marking everything that a poor man owns to be confiscated for taxes, while the man begs them to help his family. Sung-il looks dejected and remarks to Sung-hee that the law is a bully: “It’s weak for the strong, and strong for the weak.” After he leaves, Sung-hee gives some money to the man’s small daughter.
Deok-bae calls Sung-il while on his way to pick up Jung-do, offering him one more chance to take Jung-do’s offer of help. Sung-il thinks about it, but Deok-bae manages to get Jung-do all the way out to the van to transport him, and Sung-il never shows up. By the way Jung-do wilts, it’s clear he was hoping to see Sung-il as well.
Then the van door opens, and there he is. Sung-il asks if Jung-do plans to take responsibility for his promise, if he really can get those taxes from Ma Jin-seok. Jung-do says that he can, with Sung-il’s help.
This drama is pretty far outside of my personal drama-watching wheelhouse — I’m not usually much into police-caper type shows, so I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do. Part of that is the power of Seo In-gook, who’s one of those actors that can get me to watch just about anything, not gonna lie about that. He can make any character simultaneously so frustrating you want to smack some sense into him, and yet so sympathetic you just want to hug him, and his portrayal of Jung-do is no different. But it’s also the rest of the cast, who are pretty much a collection of some of my favorite character actors out there, and I can’t wait for them to start putting together their team and going after the Big Bad Guys. Police capers may not be my thang, but underdog stories most definitely are, and this is shaping up to be a pretty great underdog story.
Jung-do is such an interesting conundrum so far — while he makes no apologies for being a con-man, we’re starting to see that he’s not cold-hearted or really even a bad guy. He even seems to have a personal code of honor, sort of a modern-day Robin Hood, and he’s obviously enjoying taking down these “evil” men. He just does what life has taught him, which is to take or be taken. That small scene where he bought the children food seemed to give a hint as to what his own childhood was like, and the way his father treats him now probably doesn’t help with his outlook on life. I don’t know how (or if) he justified his scamming ways before we met him, but clearly now he’s taking pleasure in the fact that, as far as he knows, the men he’s taking for a ride deserve it.
As for Sung-il, I can imagine why his job is sucking the life out of him so badly that he’s snapping at the slightest provocation — having worked in an industry myself where all of your clients hate you, it’s demoralizing, demeaning, and can make even the happiest person miserable being around that kind of energy all day, every day. So I really had mad respect when Sung-il refused to take that bribe. Even after what he endures on a daily basis, he’s still convinced that right is right and he’s not willing to bend his convictions. Even when he lost his temper on those burner-phone hawkers, I was laughing even as I was impressed that Sung-il isn’t willing to be pushed around — at least not past a certain point. He’s a Nice Guy and he has principles, and he’d most definitely prefer to take the easy route when possible, but he’s also not going to let anyone treat him badly when push comes to shove. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Sung-il’s inner badass come out as the show progresses. You know it’s in there, just simmering under the surface waiting to be unleashed.
These two are such polar opposites — Sung-il with his hot temper, his face that shows everything he’s thinking, and his firm, resolute dedication to doing what’s right, and Jung-do with his fast-and-loose morals and iron control of his expressions. They’re going to make a fun team, because they’ll need each other to fill in their gaps while at the same time, I’m sure they’re going to drive each other absolutely batcrap crazy. It’s going to be awesome, watching these two form an alliance from hell, and it looks like their team is going to be the most amazing group of misfits ever. No doubt they’ll learn a lot from each other as well — but however it shakes out, I’m just looking forward to the epic bromance I can already see on the horizon.
- Police Unit 38: Episode 1
- Con artists and civil servants team up in Police Unit 38
- Police Unit 38’s band of tax-collecting outlaws
- Police Unit 38 will lie, cheat, or swindle you for your taxes
- OCN drama pairs Seo In-gook as charming swindler, Sooyoung as upright civil servant
- Seo In-gook, Sooyoung for new OCN comic crime drama
- Bad Guys, Vampire Prosecutor returns with new drama for OCN