Forest of Secrets: Episode 16 (Final)
It’s the end of the road, and those who have been escaping justice for far too long will be called to pay the price. But the villains in this drama have never been straightforward, and in this final episode, events once again take an unexpected turn. Shi-mok, Yeo-jin, and their team challenge everything they thought they knew before, with the hope that this long fight can finally be over.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Shi-mok stares at the last picture remaining on his white board, recalling his then-superior Lee Chang-joon telling him that prosecutors were different from those they needed to punish. Just then, Clerk Kim bursts into Shi-mok’s office to inform him that a man with Secretary Woo’s name went to Taipei yesterday. Shi-mok tells him to alert Interpol and arrange to send investigators to Taiwan.
Chairman Lee calls his son-in-law and asks him what he’s plotting by moving Yeon-jae’s money, making her leave the country, and then trying to steal Chairman Lee’s profit from the bank. Chief Secretary Lee says calmly, “Eun-soo… You’re the one who killed her, right?” The chairman tells him to stop being ridiculous, but his son-in-law says that Chairman Lee must have ordered Secretary Woo to do the deed and leave the country.
Chairman Lee asks if he’s doing this for money; after all, the killer was caught already. Chief Secretary Lee says that someone else killed Eun-soo—he would know, because he’s the one who killed CEO Park and attacked Ga-young. Pardon me, but holy shit.
Chairman Lee straightens in his chair. Chief Secretary Lee says that Yoon was only the blade—he himself held the handle of the knife. Chairman Lee asks why, and his son-in-law promises that he’ll find out soon.
He asks Chairman Lee to be honest now that he’s made his own confession, but Chairman Lee denies everything. Seeing an incoming call from Shi-mok, Chief Secretary Lee excuses himself and hangs up, the conversation successfully recorded. Chairman Lee orders one of his secretaries to freeze all of Chief Secretary Lee’s financial accounts.
Shi-mok tells his former boss that he’d like to meet, and asks Yeo-jin to go to Taiwan with Gun to arrest Secretary Woo. Shi-mok informs her that Chief Secretary Lee was Yoon’s accomplice, and tells her where he’s meeting him.
Chairman Lee remembers slapping Secretary Woo when he confessed to killing Eun-soo. Chairman Lee told him to leave the country immediately, and to get rid of the stuff he brought with him, which includes a piece of paper with “DT” on it (the one Eun-soo drew), and a file folder and what looks like a USB.
Now, Chairman Lee’s new secretary informs him that Chief Secretary Lee has a personal safety deposit box at Hanil Bank. Chairman Lee goes there and opens up the safety deposit box, but finds only a blank sheet of paper, much to his frustration.
Dong-jae follows Chief Secretary Lee from the Blue House after overhearing him banning entry to anyone from Hanjo as he left carrying a bag, but he loses him at a traffic light.
Yeo-jin, tracking Chief Secretary Lee’s location, tells Gun that the man is heading to his rendezvous spot with Shi-mok, and wonders why he’s letting himself be tracked so easily.
Shi-mok arrives at an semi-completed building, and finds Chief Secretary Lee on on of the higher floors. (Ack, what are you doing? Why would you meet a murderer in a tall building with no walls?!)
Shi-mok notes the luggage as Lee greets him and says cryptically that he still has a long road ahead. At Shi-mok’s questions, Lee confesses to instigating Yoon to kill CEO Park and hurt Ga-young, but denies responsibility for Eun-soo’s murder.
Shi-mok asks why he did it, and Lee replies that he should have refused to introduce CEO Park to the then-small and unremarkable Hanjo Distribution when CEO Park’s business was failing. He didn’t know then that the company had been purposely kept from the limelight so it could be used for an illegal transfer of assets. He says it’s the one thing he regrets—that misjudgment.
Dong-jae and Yeo-jin both arrive below, surprised to see each other, and look up at the building. Back inside, Shi-mok asks why Chief Secretary Lee asked him to come here. After a pause, Lee comments on the nice weather, then talks about how it will be once he’s arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated by his hoobaes.
“Please come with me,” says Shi-mok. Chief Secretary Lee takes a step back toward the open wall behind him. “Should I become the defeated and get dragged around as a captive? Or shall I choose to vanish on the battleground?” he asks.
“Sunbae-nim,” says Shi-mok, and Lee smiles as he says that he likes the sound of that. Shi-mok walks toward him, and Lee moves back, telling him to slow down. But Shi-mok suddenly lunges forward.
Yeo-jin and Dong-jae turn in shock when a body falls from the building and crashes down on a pile of lumber near them. Yeo-jin approaches the body of Chief Secretary Lee and spots Shi-mok above (although she doesn’t recognize him from that distance) and tells a near-catatonic Dong-jae to stay and guard Lee while she goes to check.
Dong-jae suddenly snaps out of his trance and runs over to his fallen boss, shaking him and begging him to wake up. Lee weakly raises one arm, and Dong-jae clasps his hand and desperately tells him to hold on. “You still have a chance, Dong-jae. Do not… follow my path,” Lee manages to force out, before he goes limp.
Yeo-jin approaches Shi-mok, her weapon cocked, and is dismayed to recognize him. She tells him to raise his hands and turn around, which he does. “Did you push him?” she asks. Meanwhile, in Shi-mok’s office, a breeze blows Lee Chang-joon’s picture to the floor.
Police and paramedics have arrived, and Gun tells Team Leader Choi that Lee jumped off before Shi-mok could even arrest him, after confessing to being Yoon’s accomplice. Team Leader Choi asks if the two men might have fought alone up there, but Gun assures him that Yeo-jin saw Lee jump. Yeo-jin glances over at Shi-mok at this.
Team Leader Choi says he’s not accusing Shi-mok of intentionally pushing Lee, just that he could have done it by mistake while trying to arrest him, but Soon-chang says that Dong-jae also witnessed it.
Chairman Lee’s secretary informs him of his son-in-law’s suicide. The news gives the old man pause for a moment, but he immediately tells his secretary to write a press release saying that Lee Chang-joon committed many corrupt acts while in the prosecutor’s office, that he ordered the murder of CEO Park to cover those crimes up, and that he took his own life out of guilt. The words seem to pain him, but still, that’s cold.
After the secretary leaves, Chairman Lee calls his son-in-law a fool for giving up his life, and tells himself that was just the man’s fate—there was nothing he could do. (Is that a tear I see?)
Shi-mok spreads the contents of Lee Chang-joon’s bag on Chief Prosecutor Kang’s desk. “As a prosecutor, I want to do it,” says Kang, “But Shi-mok-ah… I don’t want to lose this position.” The section chiefs burst in as a group to ask if the news about their former boss is true, which Shi-mok confirms.
Shi-mok sympathetically asks Chief Prosecutor Kang if they should start. After a long moment, Kang agrees that they must, and Shi-mok passes around folders full of documents and USBs to the section chiefs.
They contain two years’ worth of never-before-seen evidence of Hanjo Group’s crimes, including intellectual property infringement, illegal sales of real estate, unlawful transfer of assets, tax evasion, and violating the Foreign Exchange Act. There’s also evidence of them colluding with public officials and politicians to evade the law and influence personnel decisions.
“We’re so dead, aren’t we?” says Chief Prosecutor Kang wryly. After a tense silence, one of the section chiefs holds up his file. “Why should we die? They’re the ones who have to die.” Kang nods and advises a full-on, decisive attack as the only way to emerge victorious. Shi-mok bows and respectfully asks for their help, and the section chiefs nod, determined.
Yeo-jin visits Yoon in jail and tells him that his accomplice confessed and jumped to his death; at his unsurprised reaction, she deduces that this was part of their plan. She asks if Lee Chang-joon told Yoon that Secretary Woo killed Eun-soo, and if that’s why he kept silent. He nods, and she prods for intel about where Woo might be now, but Yoon says he doesn’t know.
After a pause, Yeo-jin comments that he must have thought the rest of the special investigation team were idiots while they searched everywhere looking for the killer while addressing him so politely—they probably looked pathetic to him. Yoon replies that being part of the investigation team was the first time in two years that he felt like he could breathe.
Tears gathering in her eyes, Yes-jin grinds out, “Shall I go tell Mr. Park’s mother that the prick who slashed her son to death said he felt like he could finally breathe? Or shall I go tell Ga-young’s mom?” Unable to hold her tears back any longer, Yeo-jin finally cries.
Yeo-jin: “In this country, there are so many parents who lost their children unfairly. Do all of them brandish knives? You’ve stabbed them, too. They’ve done everything in their power to overcome their losses, and you made all of their efforts go to waste. But you feel like you can breathe now?”
She leaves the room, slamming the door behind her.
The news media is in a frenzy over the newly exposed evidence left behind by Chief Secretary Lee, as teams of prosecutors invade both the Bahn and Hanjo Group headquarters with search and seizure warrants. Yeo-jin’s team also deploys to various locations to investigate all these new leads, while she and Gun head to Taiwan to hunt down Secretary Woo.
Chief Prosecutor Kang and Shi-mok call Bae Sang-wook in for questioning, and when the assemblyman denies everything, they play a recording of his damning recent conversation with Chief Secretary Lee over the intercom.
Chairman Lee arrives at the prosecutor’s office for questioning, swarmed by reporters. He gives them a self-righteous speech about how he’s responsible for 30% of the country’s GDP and has created countless jobs, and how he’s “terrified” that the country will go into decline because of the current “unreasonable rage” against corporations. He declares loudly that history will prove him innocent.
A voice calls out that even toddlers have shame, but that same voice points out that Chairman Lee hasn’t become a human being even after killing someone. It’s Young Il-jae, and Chairman Lee protests that he had nothing to do with Eun-soo’s death, but Young is talking about Lee Chang-joon: “You killed him.”
With that, he leaves Chairman Lee in stunned silence.
Night falls, and Chairman Lee’s interrogation drags on. Yeo-jin and Gun return from Taiwan, Secretary Woo in tow, and slump in exhaustion at their desks. They report that Woo refuses to blame the chairman for anything.
Chief Prosecutor Kang yawns across from Chairman Lee in the interrogation room as the man continues to deny his guilt. Lee says the prosecution is pretending they have decisive evidence against him, but in the end they need him to admit that he did wrong, or they wouldn’t have kept him this long. “But no matter how hard I rack my brain, I’ve only done good things,” he says smugly, and takes his leave.
As Chairman Lee is about to exit the building, Shi-mok and a group of his hoobaes line up to block him. Shi-mok tells Lee to come with them, as a stretching Chief Prosecutor Kang joins them—having held onto Lee just long enough for the arrest warrant to be issued. Ha!
Chairman Lee addresses Shi-mok and tells him that if the Lee family collapses, Korea will collapse. “It won’t collapse,” says Shi-mok flatly, and nods for his colleagues to take the man away.
Shi-mok slouches at his desk, rubbing his head with a sigh. He’s about to call Yeo-jin (aw), when he receives word of a visitor. It’s a coldly furious Yeon-jae, who announces that she’s going to destroy Shi-mok using every means at her disposal for daring to provoke “us.” Shi-mok asks her if that “us” includes her husband, which makes her drop her smile and clench her fist. “You killed him,” she says.
Shi-mok gives her the letter that Chief Secretary Lee left in the bag he gave Shi-mok. Lee’s voice narrates as Yeon-jae reads, and we see him sitting at his desk that last day, writing his suicide note. He says that the country is collapsing, as is the safety and security of ordinary people. For nineteen years, he says, he’s watched that hole of destruction grow as he arrested pitiful, poverty-stricken people during the day and spent his nights entertaining the filthy rich and helping them escape justice.
Lee says that if the corruption had been moderate, he’d have ignored it and enjoyed its benefits, but at a certain point it became unbearable. He asks that the evidence in the bag be declared confiscated from him while on the run, not the belongings of a traitor who stabbed his father-in-law in the back. Lee asks to be remembered as a chaebol’s loyal dog, comfortable until his final moments, because he knows that’s the only way for the evidence to be useful and credible.
We see him watching Yeon-jae as she slept, secretly recording meetings where shady deals went down, meticulously recording phone conversations, and snooping through Chairman Lee’s office.
His letter continues that the corruption in this country is no longer just a malaise; it’s taking countless lives. He says that neither time nor money can save this failed system, only the blood sacrifice of many people. We see Lee’s body fall from the building again, and Shi-mok and Yeo-jin discovering his letter.
Lee Chang-joon: “We’ve already missed the time it could’ve been healed by normal means. I must not forbear any longer. I should not wait for someone else to clean up the filth in my place. If I wait and stay silent, this entire country will be covered in filth in no time. Now, I ought to open my mouth, point at those who have done wrong and reveal the secret behind the curtains that had been kept closed. I hope that this is the beginning.”
Yeon-jae finishes reading the letter, places it on the table, and silently leaves. Shi-mok watches her go.
At his trial, former police chief Kim pleads guilty to all of his charges and declines a defense, with Team Leader Choi and a tearful Soo-chan watching in the audience. When the judge asks him why, Kim says that he wants to apologize to the police officers who are working hard for honor and justice, and that he hopes they won’t turn out like him. The judge sentences him to three and a half years in jail.
Yeo-jin questions an up-and-moving Ga-young about the other men she met, but the girl irritably says that she’s still sick and she doesn’t remember. Her mother comes to pick her up, but Ga-young is back to her old self and complains that her mom is embarrassing before telling her to go away. Yeo-jin was walking away, but at this, she turns around and comes back.
Yeo-jin lifts her notebook as if to smack Ga-young, and the mother immediately covers her daughter’s head protectively. Yeo-jin tells Ga-young to look at what her mother is doing despite how rude she’s being to her. She says that Ga-young is incredibly lucky to be alive after her ordeal—she’d better reassess how she’s using this second chance.
Yeo-jin and Gun join Jung-bon and Shi-mok’s clerks to celebrate Jung-bon’s new job at a big law firm. They wonder what Shi-mok is doing, but soon catch him on TV, being interviewed on the talk show he appeared on two months ago. The host remarks that Shi-mok has kept his promise of catching the culprit, with only a few days to go on his self-imposed time limit. Shi-mok agrees, but says that he’s here today to say something.
Shi-mok says that the evidence left by Lee Chang-joon had not been collected as insurance against the betrayal of his co-conspirators, as had been officially announced according to Lee’s final wishes. The host is surprised to find out that Lee was willing to disgrace his name in order to give the evidence more weight, and Shi-mok’s friends murmur in sudden sympathy. The host wonders if one should look at Lee as a criminal or a righteous man.
“He was a monster,” says Shi-mok. He says that Lee killed someone thinking it was a sacrifice for the greater good, but no life is less valuable than another, adding that Lee deluded himself into thinking that he had the right to mete out punishment, and was a monster created by these times.
Shi-mok quotes Yeo-jin’s words after Kyung-wan was beaten, about people being able to do corrupt things because they can get away with them, and says that if people keep their eyes open and speak up, things will change. That’s the prosecutors’ job, points out the host.
At that, we see Chief Prosecutor Kang watching from his office, as does Young Il-jae from his home.
Shi-mok acknowledges that they’ve failed as prosecutors by bending the law for the wealthy and powerful and by protecting criminals instead of ordinary citizens. He says that Lee Chang-jun was the accumulation of those failures and the prosecutors were his accomplices. Shi-mok bows his head to apologize as he says that he still feels they have a chance, and quotes his mentor’s words that their most powerful weapon is the constitution.
Shi-mok: “The prosecution will no longer
be swayed by those with power, and rise again to fight. We’ll exercise our rights on indictment accurately. We’ll remember that the people are the ones who truly hold the power to appoint us, and devote ourselves to you. We’ll take responsibility. We’ll strive to become fairer and more honest. We’ll do our best to make sure another such monster will never emerge from our ranks.”
Smiles and nods spread through the studio audience as he speaks, and when Shi-mok ends his speech with a bow, he’s greeted with applause.
Jung-bon says he can understand Yoon a little for losing his young child so horribly and then watching the criminals get away scot-free. Gun says that’s no excuse to take the law into his own hands, though, especially when there are still people like Shi-mok and and Yeo-jin, and even Gun.
Clerk Kim is just happy to see Shi-mok being awesome on TV and predicts that he’ll get promoted to section chief this time, and does a cute dance. Clerk Choi reminds him that Shi-mok is probably going to the U.S., and the mood instantly deflates. Yeo-jin looks disappointed.
Dong-jae catches Shi-mok outside his home, saying that he watched the show and he wants to honor Chief Secretary Lee’s last words. “Believe in me this once, Shi-mok,” he says. He takes Shi-mok’s hand and pleads for one last chance.
Chairman Lee arrives for his trial in a wheelchair, and he claims over and over to the reporters mobbing him that he’s ill.
Jung-bon takes Kyung-wan with him to see Yoon, whom his law firm will represent, on the young man’s request. Kyung-wan asks Yoon, “Did killing my father make you feel better? I heard you lost your son in an accident. I lost my father at your hands.” He asks if Yoon is satisfied, if things went the way he wanted. Yoon just cries, unable to speak.
Kyung-wan waits for a bit, but when he gets no response, he gets up to leave. “I’m sorry,” Yoon finally says to Kyung-wan’s turned back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Kyung-wan closes his eyes, gives a shaky nod, and leaves without looking back.
Outside the prison, Kyung-wan thanks Jung-bon, and tells him that he got a job at a golf course. Jung-bon congratulates him.
Shi-mok tells Chief Prosecutor Kang that Secretary Woo is still insisting that he acted alone, and they have no proof that Chairman Lee ordered Eun-soo’s murder. Kang tells him to go after the Hanjo corruption charges first.
Kang reflects that they’re nearing the end now—they’ve investigated nearly everything in the files. He tells Shi-mok that his U.S. trip has been canceled; he’s being transferred to Namhae (on the southern coast). Kang reveals that Chief Secretary Lee was the one who brought both of them here and gave them the power to investigate this case, even though they’d both been in unfavorable positions.
Shi-mok recalls something Lee said to him before he died: that he searched for someone to give his burden to for a long time. “I thought he made me into the chief prosecutor to appease me, but he was actually looking for someone to support you.”
Kang grumbles that they should really be giving Shi-mok an award, and apologizes. Shi-mok says that it’s okay. “You did support me,” he says, and thanks him with a bow and a faint smile. Aww. I love these two together.
As he walks out, Shi-mok remembers Chief Secretary Lee’s final moments, and now we see a part of the conversation we weren’t shown before. In the building, Lee had told him that he believed in Shi-mok’s integrity and knew he wouldn’t be swayed, but would unflinchingly chase the criminals to the end. He’d contemplated for a long time who he should give this burden to, and Shi-mok was the only answer.
Shi-mok called him sunbae-nim, as we saw before, and Lee smiled to hear it. Now, Shi-mok remembers all the moments Lee promoted him and singled him out for attention; he remembers Lee’s vow never to stand before him as a defendant. And then those final steps backward, asking Shi-mok to approach more slowly… Shi-mok closes his eyes, then looks up for a moment as though trying to stop tears.
Yeo-jin arrives at the police station to applause and ribbing from her teammates, who ask to meet her boyfriend so they can check him out. She finds a bouquet on her desk, with a note from Jung-bon congratulating her on her promotion.
Yeo-jin dismisses it as a friendly gesture, but Gun says that he got promoted too, and he didn’t get anything—Jung-bon is clearly making a play. Yeo-jin finds lipstick as well, which leads to more giggles from her colleagues. She tells them to stop being ridiculous and get back to work, but she goes to the bathroom later and puts it on. She’s admiring herself when she gets a text from Clerk Choi, telling her about Shi-mok’s transfer.
Yeo-jin meets Shi-mok at a pojangmacha that evening, and she notes fondly that he’s even drinking alone now. He grumbles mildly that she’s late, and she tells him not to be so stiff, or else he’ll end up alone in Namhae.
She asks what he’ll do with his apartment, and when he says he’ll lease it, she tilts her head at him and tells him to rent it to her for a reduced price. He flatly says he’s already listed it for much higher, haha.
Yeo-jin tells him to sleep on her porch when he comes to Seoul, though the wind might freeze his face, and he says that he will. He pours her a drink and congratulates her on her promotion, and Yeo-jin says with regret that her promotion ceremony is tomorrow, at the same time he’s leaving. Shi-mok asks why that matters, and she rolls her eyes and tells him to forget it. Dear Lord, this man.
Yeo-jin asks if he’s done with his work, and Shi-mok says that he is, except for Dong-jae, whom he’s left to Chief Prosecutor Kang. She asks why Shi-mok didn’t arrest Dong-jae, and Shi-mok replies that he never trusted Eun-soo, even though she begged him to so many times. So he’s not going to believe in Dong-jae either, but he’ll watch him.
Yeo-jin takes out her notebook and gives him a drawing she made of him, telling him laughingly to look at her gift and practice smiling. He makes a face, but puts it in his breast pocket. (On the left, next to his heart. Just saying.)
Yeo-jin asks why they’re sending him to Namhae, and Shi-mok tells her that a lot of the higher-ups have been arrested, but they’ll probably soon be released on special pardons.
Yeo-jin lifts her glass. “Goodbye, though I won’t be able to see you off.” Shi-mok lifts his. “Good luck in your new position, though I won’t be able to watch the ceremony.” She smiles, and they clink glasses and drink.
The pojangmacha owner brings Shi-mok his noodles, and Yeo-jin complains that he only got one bowl—besides, wasn’t the soup here too salty? He whispers that the owner has changed, which makes her laugh. Shi-mok asks what happened to her lips (she’s still wearing the lipstick), and she laughs again while touching them, asking if it’s pretty. He tells her it looks strange. Can I just watch these two doing this forever?
Yeo-jin and Gun are given special awards for their hard work in catching the two murderers, and are both promoted one rank. They salute their colleagues in the audience, and their team members give them a standing ovation.
Meanwhile, Shi-mok says goodbye to his clerks, thanking them for everything, and they thank him as well and tell him to take care of himself. He shakes their hands and smiles at them, and they sadly watch him drive away.
Clerk Choi and Clerk Kim return dispiritedly to their office, only to find out that Dong-jae is their new superior. As he settles in to Shi-mok’s old office, he receives a phone call that makes him go shifty-eyed. He closes his blinds before reclining in his chair and schmoozing like nothing at all has changed. Oh, Dong-jae.
Yeon-jae visits her husband’s grave. “You should have told me,” she says tearfully. She asks him if he’s at peace where he is now, and cries as she apologizes.
Next, we see her entering her father’s old office; she’s now the CEO of Hanjo Group, and her secretary (Chief Secretary Lee’s former assistant) calls someone to let the chairman know that they’re working on getting his arrest suspended.
Ten months later. Shi-mok drives along the southern coast, changing channels on the radio, when he stops on a song that reminds him of a trial he watched as a young man. Then-Section Chief Lee Chang-joon had played the song for the judge, saying that the song was banned in 1968 for showing Japanese influence. He read from the original poem, which describes a homeland that has been corrupted by lies, its people turned to slaves, who must endure pain and humiliation.
Lee apologized to the poet, who had been fired from his teaching position back then, and thanks him for his wisdom. Shi-mok’s fellow students had clapped along with the rest of the audience, whispering that it would be amazing to serve such a great section chief.
In the present, the radio switches over to the news: The prime minister is being criticized for abusing his power, and of course, he denies all charges.
Shi-mok arrives at work soon after and receives a call from Chief Prosecutor Kang, who asks him to return to Seoul. The National Assembly has unanimously chosen Shi-mok to lead a special investigation into the prime minister’s corruption scandal. Kang tells him to be there in two days—and to do something about Dong-jae when he comes too, because the man hasn’t changed a bit. Shi-mok agrees.
Shi-mok gazes at the picture from that fateful dinner party at Yeo-jin’s, which he has framed and sitting on his filing cabinet. He returns to his desk and is about to return to work when he looks up at his computer screen, where he’s clipped Yeo-jin’s gift. Shi-mok smiles—a warm, real smile.
Waaaah, it’s over! What an epic, moving, incredible finale. I can’t discuss everything I loved about this show, because then this would be a thesis (the dialogue in this episode alone was so good that I had to restrain myself from quoting every line). This episode was all about Lee Chang-joon, who is truly the most complex, sympathetic, realistic villain I have ever seen in a drama. His path to corruption was both relatable and tragic, because he started his career with so much idealism and heart, inspiring his hoobaes to be good men. Shi-mok modeled his own moral code as a prosecutor after Lee’s, and I think that’s why he was so harsh on him in his speech on TV—the disappointment was that much greater when Shi-mok found out the true depth of his superior’s corruption. And yet he still genuinely grieved for him.
The two men always had such a fraught, tense relationship, locked as they were in a cold war since the beginning of the drama. Yet even as they were challenging each other openly and undercutting one another secretly, there was always a sense of mutual respect and admiration for the other’s abilities. Their history was unspoken, but it was there (and the same echoes of a broken past relationship were present in every scene between Lee Chang-joon and Young Il-jae).
In the end, even though Lee chose Shi-mok as his warrior, the one to carry out the fight he’d been preparing for for so long, his redemption was incomplete. Lee was brave enough to secretly collect all the information needed to take down Hanjo and its associates, but he lacked the courage to live and pay for his crimes—in the end, he took both his own life and the lives of CEO Park and Ga-young far too lightly. As Shi-mok said, Lee deluded himself into thinking that he had the right to make judgments about the value of a human life, which no person has.
Besides, the real work is not done by one dramatic gesture, nor by a succession of blood sacrifices as Lee wrote in his suicide note. Shi-mok refuses to subscribe to the notion that more people must die in order to fix the rotten ways of the world. Shi-mok sees his duty in conducting every part of his job as a prosecutor with integrity and courage, refusing to back down on the “small” things, because closing one’s eyes to even those will lead to more corruption down the line. I love that Shi-mok quoted Yeo-jin about this in his interview, because she’s the one who taught him that it’s not worth sacrificing one’s morals in the present in the hopes of a bigger victory in the future—which is exactly what Lee Chang-joon did, and what led to his eventual transformation into the monster that Shi-mok described.
It was wonderful to see all of our characters get satisfying endings, even if some of the baddies didn’t exactly get their just desserts. It’s fitting that a show with the heartbreaking realism of Forest of Secrets would leave us with a system still riddled with corruption, where the powerful and the slimy are up to their old tricks, but our team members are still fighting their hardest to catch them.
This show has never given us the slightest whiff of preachy-ness, but it leaves us with a timely and surprisingly encouraging message: The fight against evil is not a sprint, but a marathon. We win if we continue to fight; the ones who have lost are those who lose themselves to temptation, to greed, to revenge and arrogance. The system is undoubtedly flawed, but it serves the people—and the authority to mete out justice is vested in the power the citizens have given to law enforcement, and not the prerogative of any one person.
And finally, Yeo-jin and Shi-mok! I was disappointed when Shi-mok was transferred so far away, but I’m not mad. It gave us that lovely farewell scene in the pojangmacha, with Yeo-jin laughing and teasing Shi-mok, and him watching her with quiet enjoyment as he answered all her questions with a comfort and openness that belies the stiff, uncommunicative prosecutor we met at the start of this show.
And that picture! I was giggling like a giddy teenager at the entire exchange. He grumbles every time she gives him a drawing, but I love that he keeps them all safe, and I think it’s very logical to assume that she has a special place in his heart considering that he looked at her picture every day for ten months, and smiles at the thought of seeing her again. (Also her asking if she looks pretty in that lipstick? My ship has sailed, I don’t care what anyone says.)
The show has left us with that perfect ending that we get so rarely: It’s superbly positioned for a second season, but the story feels complete, and it gave us excellent resolutions for all its plot lines and characters. So while I’d love another season because Shi-mok, Yeo-jin, and their motley gang have grown so dear to me (and because I will watch anything this writer does, from now until I die), I’m okay with leaving it here, too. I can imagine all these characters continuing on their adventures, forever changed by this one investigation that brought them together and shook up their world.
- Forest of Secrets: Episode 1
- Premiere Watch: Forest of Secrets
- Jo Seung-woo and Bae Doo-na search for truth in the Forest of Secrets
- It’s a concrete jungle of intrigue in new Forest of Secrets poster
- Everyone is a suspect in Forest of Secrets
- Corruption and dark mystery in new Forest of Secrets teaser
- Guns loaded in Forest of Secrets teasers
- A tape-recorded warning teases thriller Forest of Secrets
- From behind the scenes and the script reading of tvN’s Forest of Secrets
- tvN thriller Forest of Secrets confirms leads, adds Lee Jun-hyuk