Forest of Secrets 2: Episode 1
IT’S HERE! *ahem* tVN’s Forest of Secrets 2 is finally on the air three years after its first season’s run, returning with the same writer and the majority of season one’s cast including our leads Jo Seung-woo and Bae Doo-na. The hype for this has been real, and with the rarity of second seasons in dramaland as well as the high praise for the first season, this drama has a lot to live up to. We begin with our former special investigation team members scattered across cities and agencies, but thanks to a suspicious new case and tensions brewing between the police and prosecution, it looks like their paths will once again merge.
Lee Chang-joon, the late Chief Prosecutor and Blue House Chief of Staff, narrates in voiceover about the difficult, never-ending quest for the truth and change. It’s March 3, 2019, and a car slowly makes its way through a dense fog on an isolated road by the water. Inside is our favorite prosecutor, HWANG SHI-MOK (Jo Seung-woo).
As he listens to the news, Shi-mok receives a text asking where he is. A weather advisory about the insane amount of fog plays over the radio. Shi-mok pulls over and peeks his head out the window. He takes a call from his colleague who frets that Shi-mok will be late when he’s the guest of honor.
In true Shi-mok fashion, he skips right over that and asks for the Korea Marine Environment Management Corporation’s number to report damage to part of the barrier around a prohibited area. His colleague gets distracted by the arrival of the branch chief, though, so Shi-mok tells him to forget it and hangs up after saying it’ll be awhile before he gets there.
Shi-mok finally arrives at the hotel for the gathering, but he turns back around when he witnesses two emergency vehicles rushing by. He follows them to the beach where police have cordoned off the area. A crowd has already gathered and people gossip about a college student having drowned in the prohibited area.
A young man, wrapped in a blanket and looking shaken, identifies an expensive pair of shoes with a cell phone stuck inside as belonging to his friend. Soon after, the body of his friend is pulled from the water. He steps backward in a daze and doesn’t even notice when he bumps into Shi-mok.
Shi-mok watches the college kid cry as he tells an officer that this was their first college trip. He was so drunk he didn’t even realize his friends had gone out. Shi-mok glances at the two stretchers and envisions the scene as if it were happening in front of him, as is his custom.
The boys run around the beach screaming and whooping. One takes his shoes off before getting in the ocean. Shi-mok turns and watches his own car slow to a stop nearby where he ultimately decides not to call and report the damaged barrier. He watches his car pull away while one boy yells, “Seung-joon!” and rushes into the water to attempt to save his friend.
Back to reality. The ambulances drive off, and the friend is ushered into a cop car. Shi-mok barely listens as his colleague nags at him over the phone about missing his own going away party.
Meanwhile, our favorite officer HAN YEO-JIN (Bae Doo-na) lies in bed in her upgraded apartment (aw, I’ll kind of miss that cheap rooftop apartment) and browses Instagram. Amid photos of some Marvel festival – she’s awed by an Iron Man costume that matches her figurine, heh – she sees a photo of a couple in front of a no entry sign at Tongyeong Beach. “If it’s Tongyeong…” she muses.
Suspiciously, the picture disappears from the account moments later. She’s distracted by a TV news report about a police officer accused of interfering in the prosecution’s investigation. A high-ranking officer is being accused of leaking information to his friend who was under investigation. Yeo-jin wonders who the officer is.
The next day, following a news report that a deputy chief prosecutor fled a DUI checkpoint, Yeo-jin pauses when she hears that two college kids drowned in Tongyeong last night. People are criticizing the government for not fixing the prohibited area’s barrier which had been faulty for years.
Now a senior inspector at the National Police Agency, Yeo-jin arrives at work and pulls up that Instagram account again, but the photo is still missing. She searches online for info on the drowning incident.
Elsewhere, Shi-mok is getting yelled at for being a no-show at his own going-away party, while his assistants pack up his stuff. In his office, he gets a call from Yeo-jin asking about the drowning incident. It’s been declared an accident, so the news isn’t covering it in detail.
Shi-mok gives her the rundown. Three college students took an all-day drive to Tongyeong in the new car one of them got as a college-acceptance gift from his parents. That was the kid that survived. Once they got there, he passed out after a couple of drinks. He couldn’t get ahold of his friends after he woke up, so he went to the beach and saw his friend’s shoes on the shore.
Yeo-jin explains (after prompting him to be curious, ha) that she saw photos posted around the time of the incident of a couple in front of a no entry sign on the beach. Strangely, they were later taken down. The police claim the students cut the rope cordoning off the prohibited area, but Yeo-jin wonders if the rope was already cut.
Shi-mok notes that, if so, the question is whether the students got in the water first or the couple cut the rope line first. Yeo-jin plans to find out. She’s surprised he knows so much about the case when it’s not even his. He doesn’t mention being at the scene.
After hanging up, his assistant informs him their branch chief wants to gather for lunch to make up for the canceled going-away party. Clearly not a branch chief fan, Shi-mok almost rolls his eyes and leaves to revisit the scene, promising to be back for lunch amid the protestations of his staff.
At the station, Yeo-jin decides on an indirect approach and messages the user who took down the photos, pretending to be a “retro figurine” seller. He bites, but she gets nervous when he ignores her next message. Yeo-jin calls her Yongsan station colleague officer JANG GUN (Choi Jae-woong) for help tracking down the user.
Team Leader CHOI YOON-SOO (Jeon Bae-soo) snoops over Gun’s shoulder and sighs at Gun helping Yeo-jin without even knowing why. But his interest is piqued when Yeo-jin speculates that the drowning may not have been accidental. The three of them manage to figure out some digits in the suspect’s license plate and that he’s a member of a super exclusive gym at Winters Hotel by snooping through his and his girlfriend’s photos.
Yeo-jin and Gun tag-team it at the hotel where Yeo-jin’s Special Investigation Bureau badge and threats of a warrant get the employee to reluctantly hand over the man’s personal details. Gun wistfully notes that he should’ve transferred to the National Police Agency too.
On the beach, Shi-mok checks out the flimsy rope barrier and notices a section of it lying right by the waterline. The rope attached to the uprooted post isn’t cut – it’s burnt.
In the city, Yeo-jin and Gun wait outside the suspect’s house for him to return. Gun observes she’s been at the National Police Agency for a while now, but she argues she could be relocated anytime. They’ve been telling her for two years the project will wrap up soon.
She’s on a special team meant to reform investigative procedure, but the prosecution won’t work with them. Back to the matter at hand, Gun wonders if they can prove this guy did anything. Even if he cut the rope, it doesn’t mean he was involved with the drownings. With no signs of the man returning, they call it a day.
Of course, that’s right when the owner arrives home. They manage to catch Lee Yong-ho before he goes inside and ask about his trip to Tongyeong. He gets defensive and nervously tightens his grip on the lighter in his hand. We see a brief flashback of him and his girlfriend exchanging glances at the crime scene as police investigated that night.
When Gun mentions his photos of that foggy night, we see another flashback of Yong-ho and his girlfriend laughing as he tosses part of the rope barrier. Yeo-jin calmly asks why he uprooted the barrier, making him unconvincingly yell that he didn’t do it.
They ask him to go to the station for questioning and threaten to get a warrant if he doesn’t cooperate. Later, Yeo-jin tells Shi-mok that Gun took Yong-ho into custody, so he should contact him for updates.
At the station, Yong-ho is full of douchey rich-dude attitude and asserts the rope was already cut when they got there. Gun gets a text, presumably from Shi-mok, and knowingly comments that Yong-ho must’ve burned the rope with his lighter. Yong-ho’s eyes shake, but he quickly regains composure and calls his dad to get him a lawyer.
Yeo-jin rushes in late to a meeting with Chief CHOI BIT (Jeon Hye-jin) who is peeved and questions her priorities. Hmm … there seems to be existing tension there. One of the other officers reports on recent articles criticizing the police and points out that certain details within are only known to the prosecution.
This fight with the prosecution is getting ugly, and Chief Choi isn’t about to let the prosecution win. She orders her subordinates to publicize news about and leak info on supposedly dirty prosecutors. She mentions upcoming special reports by Sungmoon Daily. The first will claim Hanjo’s CEO Lee Yeon-jae was unaware of her husband’s actions but used him to get her father and brother out of the way so she could seize power herself.
The second report is the one she cares about. Given Yeo-jin’s previous work on the special investigation team, Chief Choi put Yeo-jin in charge of this one which will be about Shi-mok. It will claim his public statement on Lee Chang-joon’s intentions (“turning a murderer into a patriotic hero”) was done in exchange for the information on Hanjo. “But it’s a lie,” Yeo-jin boldly states. The rest of her team looks up uncomfortably.
Chief Choi isn’t the least bit concerned about the truth and tells Yeo-jin not to let her emotions get in the way. Yeo-jin pushes that, although the article may seem helpful to them now, it’s still untrue and would go against their purpose. She argues that positive articles highlighting good police work would be more effective than striking back at the prosecution. Chief Choi reminds Yeo-jin it’s not her call and dismisses them.
Yeo-jin calls Gun and learns that Lee Yong-ho was released and has a judge-turned-lawyer representing him, so it’s likely over. He still sent the restored photos of the couple on the beach to Shi-mok, though, who recognizes them as onlookers at the scene.
Shi-mok gets his assistant to pass them along to the team in charge along with detailed instructions on what to investigate, which I’m sure they’ll love. He also asks for a copy of the files and to be kept abreast of developments even after he relocates to Wonju (so not back to Seoul yet).
Elsewhere, Yong-ho’s girlfriend yells at him for giving the photos to the police, but he thinks he’d have looked guiltier if he didn’t. She’s mad he didn’t at least edit her out, proving she is not ride or die. The lawyer asks if they saw the students, but she comments the fog was too dense to see anything.
They meet with the surviving student to try to reach a settlement, and Yong-ho decides to blame the student for making him a victim – his going to the police station really scarred him, apparently. He even blames the kid for not looking out for his friends. Geez.
The lawyer gently scares Kim Hoo-jeong (the kid has a name!) into admitting that he didn’t see the couple at the beach and records his statement. They didn’t even have to offer him the money, the girlfriend remarks. The lawyer watches his clients with distaste.
At the National Police Agency, Director SHIN JAE-YOUNG (Lee Hae-young) informs Chief Choi that the prosecution wants to summon the Intelligence Bureau director who is the one accused of leaking information on an ongoing investigation. (They weren’t kidding when they said “high-ranking.”)
She unflinchingly advises they take him into custody first. They can use an unrelated charge and say they’re doing an internal investigation, later announcing he’s clean. I mean, I knew she wasn’t a beacon of honesty but still, damn.
Director Shin doesn’t think the prosecution will go for it given the fight over investigatory power. He shoots down Chief Choi’s suggestion to ask the Commissioner General to intercede with the Ministry of Justice to get their side and the prosecution to have a sit down.
She argues they need to take action. If they don’t, even their Commissioner General won’t be safe. Chief Choi promises to take responsibility and reach an agreement if a meeting with the prosecution is arranged.
In Tongyeong, Shi-mok is surprised to hear the drowning case has already been closed one day after it was sent to Seoul. He heads back to the office to check the file and finds they ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. His brow furrows to see a familiar signature on the form: Chief Prosecutor KANG WON-CHEOL (Park Sung-geun). Oh nooo, has he gone to the dark side?
It’s so nice to see these characters back on the screen, and I enjoyed all the callbacks to season one from the same opening theme to Yeo-jin’s propensity for putting her own simplistic drawings up on her walls. Now it looks like she even frames them, judging by that giraffe drawing above her bed. I hope she still gives “presents.” I knew the main cast was returning, but I didn’t realize just how many of the original cast members they got back, so that was a nice surprise. Of course, we haven’t even seen everyone yet since we focused almost exclusively on the police this hour. I’m looking forward to catching up with the prosecution and seeing their side of things. Mostly, I can’t wait until we have everybody in one place rather than doing their own thing in separate locations. As great as it was to see some familiar faces again, especially Shi-mok and Yeo-jin, it doesn’t feel right with everyone so separated.
In addition to the characters we already know, we’ve got some new players this time around like the brutally dishonest Chief Choi. She’s an interesting one in that she’s so blatant about her methods. While I completely disagree with her truth-be-damned ways, I do appreciate that she’s not being hypocritical about it; she knows what she’s doing and is fine with it. That will probably make her more formidable, though, seeing as she’s not going to back down easily or be swayed by others’ opinions of her. I anticipate her causing all sorts of problems down the road, and she’s already gunning for Shi-mok which is unacceptable. Thankfully, he’s got Yeo-jin on his side, although it looks like she’ll be put in an awkward position by sticking up for him (i.e. the truth).
It made me happy that Yeo-jin and Shi-mok have kept in touch over the years, and I can’t wait for them to be reunited. I am nervous that they’ll be pitted against each other in this intense fight between the police and prosecution, though. Not that those two would blindly follow their organizations but still. They need to be a team! Their partnership was a highlight of the first season, so I’m gonna need more of that. Please, drama?
I have to admit, if I weren’t already invested due to my love of season one, I don’t know that this episode would’ve fully gripped me. This season didn’t start with as much of a bang as the first season, and I think that’s partially because we’re playing catch-up with our characters who are currently scattered. We’re clearly in setup mode and working to maneuver everyone into place, so this part almost feels like prologue. Plus, the opening case is more subtle and less sensational than last season’s murder. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is less attention grabbing.
I’m not sure what to make of this drowning case yet. There’s obviously something sketchy going on, but it isn’t screaming murder as of yet. Smarmy rich dude Lee Yong-ho and his equally unpleasant girlfriend seem more entitled and irresponsible than nefarious. It crossed my mind that the student who survived might be involved or at least know something more than he’s letting on, but it’s all speculation at this point. Either way, the quick dismissal of the case doesn’t bode well nor does the fact that this dismissal was sanctioned by the Chief Prosecutor himself. He was the one clean higher-up from last season, and I liked him, so I’ll be sad if he’s gone corrupt. Guess we’ll have to wait for Shi-mok to get to the bottom of it, but I have no doubt the case will lead to corruption and secrets a plenty for our favorite duo to uncover. I’m assuming the case will tie into this feud between the prosecution and police somehow, and maybe the case of the Intelligence Bureau director leaking info, so I’m curious to see how it all comes together. There’s never a shortage of corruption, is there?
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