Rating:
Average user rating 5.0
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The Good Detective: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

Note: This is only a first week review.

The Good Detective is JTBC’s new Monday-Tuesday thriller, which finally opened this week after being caught in COVID-19 limbo. It’s Sohn Hyun-joo’s latest reunion with director Jo Nam-gook, with whom he last worked in Empire of Gold (2013) and The Chaser (2012). He’s back to detecting as violent crimes veteran KANG DO-CHANG, while Jang Seung-jo plays his partner, OH JI-HYUK, a hotshot who’s relocated to their current precinct for reasons we don’t yet know.

The show has a tonally confused opening accompanied by a visually distinct style. The aesthetic put me in mind of the recent Memorist, whose dark undertone grounded its at times disparate plotlines. It starts with the dubious arrest of LEE DAE-CHUL (special appearance by Jo Jae-yoon) for a double murder, but it seems pretty clear right from the outset that he’s not the man. As the perspective of the show pans wider, it’s obvious the stitch-up was carried out from the upper echelons. It’s not a novel plotline by any means, and I admit a little sigh escaped me as we had rich men in suits colluding over how to keep their secrets.

With Lee Dae-chul put on death row, there seems to be some political stakes in relation to the death penalty, with some key figures trying to abolish it, while others are trying to keep it. It’s not entirely clear yet which players are on which side, and I honestly didn’t try too hard because I have politician fatigue. Why expend excessive energy to work out what they’ll tell you later? In any case, there’s definitely a faction that wants to keep Lee’s case buried and expedite his execution.

It seems that Do-chang is the designated patsy for that miscarriage of justice, and at first glance, he seems like a willing one, and easily duped. He’s the person responsible for wrapping up the case and putting Lee Dae-chul inside, and for the five years since it happened, he hasn’t questioned himself about it once. But all that changes when a guy walks into the police station and confesses to murder. The victim? Lee Dae-chul’s teen daughter.

The confessor is a dude called PARK GUN-HO (Lee Hyun-wook) and his testimony—and behavior—is very weird. He’s insistent on his story, that he kidnapped and murdered the girl, but the locations he gives for her body are proven to actually be tied to the crimes Lee Dae-chul was charged with. They figure he’s playing some kind of game, and we learn that both Do-chang and Ji-hyuk were involved in the case five years ago, though Ji-hyuk’s part is not yet clear (like everything else about him).

Jang Seung-jo reminds me a lot of Kim Kang-woo in this role, right down to the crinkles around his eyes. His devil-may-care attitude lends him a kind of rough charm, and while I believe he’s a good guy, I can’t say I quite trust him…and that, I’m sure, is just how he likes it. Our introduction to his character is super cryptic: He’s at an auction for a rare, limited edition Swiss watch (of course), of which there are only two in Korea (of course), and he wins the bid for an incredibly high sum. That suggests he’s obscenely rich, so it begs the question of why he is where he is. It also explains his manner and why he seems generally unconcerned by how others see him (which provides a whole level of dry comedy by itself).

The watch is significant of course: In the very opening scene of the show, we’re shown a shady figure disposing of a body, and a watch left behind in the mud. What are the bets that that watch was number one of the two watches? Even shadier is how the chief of the other Violent Crimes team notices Ji-hyuk wearing it and comments. My guess is that that’s exactly the kind of reaction that Ji-hyuk wanted to provoke, secret dog-whistle style. The other chief is also clearly cannier than their hapless team, and seems to know much more about the truth of the Lee Dae-chul case than anyone in the police we’ve met so far, including the Commissioner.

As a cop show, this has been pretty different from the usual fare just in how all-over-the-place the cops are. Violent Crimes Team 2 is full of dissent and bland incompetence, and that’s best exemplified in our dear veteran Do-chang, who is a bit of a shouty hothead with a bizarre mistrust of logic and deduction, and a close-ish but antagonistic relationship with his new partner. He’s quite a departure from that drama ideal of the old-fashioned detective, including his own previous incarnations.

Assuming that’s intentional, it’s actually weirdly fun—he’s constantly discombobulated and at least two steps behind, and his fumbling ineptitude is aggravating rather than endearing. It’s the opposite of how I’m used to seeing the actor—as a kind of Gandalf of detectives—and on a meta-level at least, I’m firmly of the opinion that the cognitive dissonance is good for us…that’s how you remind your brain that acting is, well, acting, and they avoid being typecast.

For a show called The Good Detective, Do-chang is certainly anything but. He seems content to skate along doing what he needs to do to meet his own needs. If that means pocketing a little something here and there, he’s not above it, but he is refreshingly honest about it. Or at least not dishonest. He seems to be on the brink of an internal investigation as this case takes off, which adds some more tension and urgency to his desire for this not to blow up.

The first episode is dominated by Park Gun-ho’s strange confession. He’s revealed to be a former prison guard turned missionary who’s had contact with Lee Dae-chul. What they don’t know is that Park seems to have had episodes of terrible violence against Lee in prison. It’s information that is hard to square with the long game he’s playing right now.

Each one of his interrogations are a puzzle both to the detectives and to us as viewers. On the one hand, his confession is very clear. On the other, it doesn’t add up. On yet the other, he certainly acts completely unhinged in a way that doesn’t seem feigned. While in custody, he also suffers a seizure…why? And to top it all off, he has an unholy zeal for reciting scripture in justification for criminality. And can I add at this point how very tired I am of this? It seems like every next drama has a murderous priest or Bible-quoting villain, and apart from being offended by the ubiquitous nature of it, I’m also bored. I don’t know if this is a comment on domestic zealotry, or if it’s just a soft target. Can anyone else shed light on this?

His unsubtle behavior seems designed to convince them that he is a murderer, and they suspect his plan is to then reveal an alibi that would make laughing stocks of them. I’m pretty sure his point is that he can walk in and make a false confession and be charged and convicted with minimal evidence…thus “proving” how easy it is to get a false conviction.

However, the two detectives are pretty certain that the murder victim, Lee Dae-chul’s daughter Lee Eun-hye, is not dead at all. In fact, she and Park seem somehow in league. Ji-hyuk follows the clues and they track down Eun-hye, very much alive.

But the cogs of power are turning above, and the case is snatched away by the prosecution. I don’t think any of them anticipate how the case snowballs, and I find it a really interesting comment on the justice system, which perhaps is not exactly what the show set out to say, but is fascinating nevertheless: that at some point, a case takes on a life of its own, regardless of evidence or common sense, simply because of the system. The system is designed to let the pinball fall, chute to chute, in a kind of irrevocable downwards flow, until it lands at the very bottom. And its fate ultimately doesn’t rely on evidence or the enactment of justice, but is simply the result of momentum—unstoppable and unchecked.

Except perhaps for one spanner in the works: the media. Lee Elijah plays the role of reporter JIN SEO-KYUNG, and like the detectives, she’s close to the bottom of the foodchain—in her case, because she’s controversial and hardheaded, refusing to toe the line of her superiors. She’s picked to cover Lee Dae-chul’s execution news, but then the former Prosecutor General who is currently in prison (thanks to her) gives her a tip: Lee is innocent. It changes the way she approaches the story, but her field is as implacable a machine as the law. Though she tries to be conscientious, her work ends up being turned against her intentions, and there’s very little she can do about it. It’s at this point she and Ji-hyuk cross paths, and it’s a pretty interesting dynamic I’m keen to see develop.

As we reach the climax of the second episode, all our main characters converge to the scene of Park Gun-ho being taken away by the prosecution, in the middle of a media circus. He seizes the opportunity to make what I guess has been his play all along: one, to prove his wrongful arrest when Eun-hye turns up alive, and two, to use that moment to announce that her father Lee Dae-chul was wrongly accused.

The way he entreats Eun-hye seems to indicate that he cares about her (in a pastoral sense, not romantic) and wants to help her, though it’s not certain she feels the same, and has a breakdown in front of the reporters. She’s pretty messed up, unsurprisingly, with a tough but brittle exterior. Ji-hyuk ends up quietly staking her out that night, so he’s there when she has an epileptic seizure, just like Park Gun-ho’s.

Meanwhile, Do-chang gets an anonymous email with video evidence which, if genuine, definitively proves Lee Dae-chul’s innocence.

There’s definitely a lot we still don’t know, and it might take another week to slot all those pieces into place, like what exactly happened with Park Gun-ho and Lee Dae-chul, and how Park went from being convinced of his guilt to being convinced of his innocence. I like the idea of Seo-kyung being the variable, the moving piece that pings all over the board, between all the different axes. I still have a bit of a hangover from her terrible pop-up character in An Empress’s Dignity, so I’m liking her straightforward, unsmirky character here (I cannot abide smirking!).

I have to make a confession, though. After watching episode 1, I had a good feeling about the show and was fully prepared to enjoy it. Then I went off to refresh my memory of the details of the show and realized this is from the same screenwriter as Masked Prosecutor and I HATED HATED HATED that show SO MUCH (they forced Kim Sun-ah to be filial daughter to her mother’s rapist without ever pointing out how freaking effed up that was *ragestroke*). So that somewhat affected how I felt about this show as I went into episode 2.

I’m on the fence about whether to keep on watching now, because I’m afraid I’m mistaking convolution for complexity, and bad writing for intriguing plot. But I’m drawn by Jang Seung-jo’s character, so I might just stick with it for one more week and then decide whether it’s a bin, a win, or a speed-watch.

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Hope it turns out better than it sounds, couldn't get past the first couple of paragraphs of the review. but thank you Saya for your assessment.

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But what sin did the review commit? 🤣 I am quite pleased with it!

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Thanks for the heads-up. I'm tempted to watch for Jang Seung-jo. I wish I could read about four weeks of DB recaps before having to make up my mind. Sorry to hear this is just a first week review.

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I'm sure if it's either VERY good or VERY bad, someone will be saying something on the fanwall! And there's always the WWW post you can check in on, too.

And if you hear nothing at all, it probably means it's blazingly mediocre!

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Aaand the joke's on me, friends: I've watched up to episode 4 and I really like it! It's good! Not necessarily 100% novel, but it's got some good twists and subversions, and best of all, the relationships are excellent. And funny. Yessss.

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Thanks for letting us know! I'm looking for a good drama. Unfamiliar Family has spoiled me for anything but a good drama.

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New news, post 5&6: IT IS STILL GOOD.

Like, really surprisingly good and it's the only drama I am really watching right now? Jang Seung-jo x Sohn Hyun-joo bromantic chemistry is A+++

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"I’m afraid I’m mistaking convolution for complexity, and bad writing for intriguing plot"

I think we all tend to make this mistake, LOL. Sometimes we give dramas too much credit! @leetennant sound familiar to you at all?

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Forgot to add: hopefully that is not the case with this show!

Thanks so much for the review, @saya! I was thinking recently that DB hasn't seen enough of you! 💖

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DB doesn't want me as much as I want DB 😂 it's a jjak sarang, haha -- but you know where else you can find me ❤️

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Woooow. Their loss!

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And ours.

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I have no idea what you're talking about... *whistles innocently*

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Thanks for the review! I haven't seen episode two, but I agree with you that the oddly funny aspects of the show seem intentional. Sohn's bumbling Do-chang is definitely against type, and the show seems to relish making fun of the incompetent officers.

I found your comments about the justice system especially insightful and poetic.

that at some point, a case takes on a life of its own, regardless of evidence or common sense, simply because of the system... And its fate ultimately doesn’t rely on evidence or the enactment of justice, but is simply the result of momentum—unstoppable and unchecked.

Quite somber words, especially in light of world events, but much needed.

Given the writer's prior credits (I haven't watched Masked Prosecutor but your comment makes me shudder), I fear that we may both be "mistaking convolution for complexity, and bad writing for intriguing plot." Hopefully, though, this will turn out better than Criminal Minds.

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Criminal Minds, oh how I hated that show 😭😭 The only good thing it gave me was you (and oppa's shirts)!

Quite somber words, especially in light of world events, but much needed.

It was the only part of the show that gave me real pause. It's genuinely frightening - especially, as you say, in light of world events. And with systemic oppression on my mind so much lately, it felt like the show made a very timely comment on the mechanisms of criminalisation, and what's broken about the system.

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PS @lovepark! What are your thoughts on Flower of Evil?! (and are you recapping it?)

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Not recapping Flower of Evil, but the teasers seem interesting. Hopefully the show will actually use Moon Chae-won this time because the main pairing is promising (though we know from experience that it's not enough to save a drama). It seems that the quality of the show will ultimately rely on its writer since this will be their first, full-length one.

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(though we know from experience that it's not enough to save a drama)

Do we ever 🤣🤣🤣

for the benefit of the beanies, lovepark and I recapped the worthless trainwreck that was Criminal Minds Korea, and the most criminal thing about it was how it wasted an amazing cast, gave MCW nothing to do except in one almost-glorious episode...*foams at mouth*

anyway, let's hope both Good Detective *and* Flower of Evil turn out to be 👌🏾👌🏾 😄

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I liked Oh Ji-Hyuk and I'm intrigued by this character, why didn't he work for one year, where comes his money? Until now, he looks like the only competent one. It looks like he cares too, I liked his answer to the journalist.

If the characters are interesting, I can watch if even the story is a big mess like Memorist.

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Aahhh but I ended up really loving Memorist! Though yes, I think it was hard to watch week to week because of how much it relied on you remembering its details. I watched the first third that way, but ended up marathoning the second half, which made it very good! I can only enjoy intricacy when I can keep up 😅

I find the main characters interesting and offbeat enough that I'll definitely watch another week - I'm willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt since time has passed between MP and now, but I'm scared I will end up being as duped as Do-chang and no one will save me from myself XD

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I liked the first two episodes, although I had the feeling I had already seen this drama, and I'm praying there's no religious cult subplot, please. Like you, I'm so tired of psychos reciting the Bible...

I don't know if I'll stick around but I will be watching next week. I hadn't thought of the Memorist feeling, but now that you mention it.... I'm not into more dark alleys, dark basements, dark rooms... no, no, no.

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I swear we are nearly the same person, I wrote my comment before I read, lmao.🤣

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In fairness, it's less dark basements and more cryptic and sometimes smirking villains.

Also less Yoo Seung-ho, which is always sad 🤣

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Masked prosecutor. Ugh! I had forgotten about that train wreck

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Sorry for reminding you 🤣 Hurry and forget again!

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I hope this show won't belong this for future episodes on Dramabeans recaps soon since I'm not interested this.

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Your preference is noted and I'll pass it along to the editor 😂

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Loved it. Great casting. I am already big fun of the team 😁I hope they will not dissapointed!

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But the whole point of the team is to be disappointing, so maybe we need to hope they *will* disappoint purely for our continued entertainment!

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I enjoyed the first two eps. I'm really glad they didn't go the religious serial killer route. As for now it isn't complex or convoluted, so we shall see where this goes.

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I was very relieved when the subversion came! I'm still not sold entirely, but I think...or at least, I *hope* the show is trying to do something interesting.

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Someone's having too much fun in the comments...

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quick, take away her keyboard 😱

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No! Never!!!

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No, I didn’t know how much I missed someone on DB until she started spamming the comment section of her recap. Would duct taping your keyboard to your hands make you stay?

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It would put me in quite a sticky situation, to be honest.

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Though if you’re stuck to your keyboard can you still podcast? And you probably have to do a job out in the real non-kdrama adjacent world, which is a shame. So, I guess I’ll put away the tape for now.

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It depends where you put the tape. If it's over my mouth, then, well, I can still technically make noise, but no amount of editing would make it sound intelligent

or indeed, intelligible

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If u are having fun... We are having fun!!! 😆😆😆😂

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😂😂😂

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This is why we need more of her recaps.

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I enjoyed the first two episodes.
Although Lee Hyun-wook was quoting from the Bible, I didn't get religious killer/Memorist vibes at all.
I think It's like a covering up crimes by top government officials type drama...

I love Sohn Hyun-joo. He is fantastic as always.
I have never seen dramas that Jang Seung-jo was in before, but his acting is excellent so far.
It's a mystery why his character has to be super rich...
I'll continue to watch next week!

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Is it on any legal site?

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THE GOOD DETECTIVE is available subbed at OnDemandKorea.

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So, does anybody here read Terry Pratchett? Anybody else get Sergeant Colon vibes from our older detective in the duo? I'd say Ji-Hyuk was Captain Carrot, but he's too openly brilliant :)

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huh! that's a thought XD then that particularly dim one must be nobby nobbs 🤣

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3 episodes in and I like the drama. I went in expecting a detective drama and that is what I am getting. The show seems a little underrated to me.

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Thank you @saya <3. I hope you'll continue to wee-cap this.
It's so hard to say no I'm busy to Sohn Hyun-joo.

I'm interested but it's going to be a slow watch.

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