Forest of Secrets 2: Episode 16 (Final)
Our second tale of one prosecutor and one cop’s tireless fight for justice has come to a satisfying close. As they’ve already learned once before, exposing the truth in a system that caters to the powerful is a thankless job. Our duo has done their part, and now it’s up to others to see it through. All they can do is keep fighting for what they believe and hope they can inspire some change along the way.
Shi-mok and Sa-hyun present the case for a warrant for Tae-ha to none other than the deputy prosecutor general. He listens and looks through the documents silently, weighing his options. Meanwhile, Tae-ha walks into an empty press briefing.
At Chief Choi’s full press briefing, she admits that Kwang-soo’s body was moved to conceal a meeting at the Namyangju villa. We flash back to Shi-mok paying Chief Choi a visit. He’d explained that Tae-ha meant to destroy Yeo-jin’s life.
The one person Tae-ha can’t silence right now is Director Kim who will likely try to use Chief Choi again to get out of this mess. Chief Choi accuses Shi-mok of doing exactly what Tae-ha did to Yeo-jin. In the present, Chief Choi lays out the facts. A police official summoned her to the villa where she and a high-ranking prosecutor moved the body.
Shi-mok had told her she decides how this ends. If she denies her involvement, she’ll be ruined by Director Kim and Yeo-jin will be ruined by Tae-ha. But she can choose to confess and step down. Chief Choi calls him a bad judge of character if he thinks she’d go that far to protect Yeo-jin.
Shi-mok says Yeo-jin opens up easily to people but is selective about who she trusts and respects. He doesn’t think her and Chief Choi’s bond is one-sided. He’s appealing to her because he trusts that Yeo-jin is a good judge of character.
Presently, Chief Choi announces she plans to step down and will cooperate with the investigation. She apologizes to the public and Kwang-soo’s family.
At Hanjo, Director Park briefs Yeon-jae on the situation. She’s most concerned that Sung-jae will find out about their involvement and use it against her. Reading her intentions perfectly, Director Park asks if he should contact Joo-seon.
Yeon-jae comments that it’s a good thing Director Park works for her since he knows her so well; she’d be screwed if he went somewhere else. He assures her he’ll never betray her in any way. Alone in his car, Joo-seon vents his anger at being ordered around. But then he drives off to do as bidden.
The deputy prosecutor general signs off on the warrant. He supposes Shi-mok would enjoy humiliating Tae-ha and puts him in charge of the investigation. Sa-hyun looks alarmed and signals to Shi-mok not to accept, but Shi-mok does anyway. The deputy prosecutor general sends Shi-mok out and privately asks Sa-hyun if Tae-ha was behind the fake note and witness. Does Shi-mok know?
Whatever Joo-seon and Director Park said to Chief Prosecutor Kang did not go over well. Chief Prosecutor Kang is livid when Joo-seon refers to Hanjo as a “good partner.” Joo-seon encourages him to close his eyes until retirement when they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
Chief Prosecutor Kang mulls over the threat he just received: stop the Eastern Office from messing with Hanjo or be framed for illegally acquiring the financial statements – Joo-seon will serve as witness. Director Park implied they could get his colleagues on their side should Chief Prosecutor Kang wish to fight Hanjo.
Meanwhile, Chief Choi takes a call from Tae-ha. He’d planned to leave her out of it since she was his partner during the most difficult day of his life. She accuses him of sending Yeo-jin and Shi-mok to meet with Director Kim knowing he’d give them her name. Then, he used her to threaten Yeo-jin.
Angry, he defensively argues he had to mention Director Kim if he didn’t want to take the fall alone. She gets it but says it’s over now. Tae-ha won’t accept that and hangs up.
Chief Choi wanders pensively around her office, thinking back to her conversation with Shi-mok. He’d said it was her last chance to serve the public as an officer. Ki-hyuk will never talk if Tae-ha remains in power, and Chief Choi is the only one who can bring him down.
Chief Choi walks out of her office for the last time to find her subordinates all waiting for her. She blinks back tears as they salute, and she locks eyes with Yeo-jin before she leaves. Yeo-jin’s colleagues snipe about how she ruined Chief Choi.
At the Supreme Office, Shi-mok interrogates Tae-ha who observes things would’ve gone perfectly were it not for Dong-jae. They’d never have found out about Kwang-soo otherwise. Shi-mok notes all his what-ifs are no different to how Dong-jae’s kidnapper rationalized things. Hoo-jung, at least, was bullied. What’s Tae-ha’s excuse?
The deputy prosecutor general summons Shi-mok for an update. He let Shi-mok handle Tae-ha as revenge of sorts, but now he warns him to keep the charges to abandonment of a corpse. There’s no need to mention the fake evidence. He’ll still fire Tae-ha if Shi-mok wants.
He says he’s doing Shi-mok a favor by not firing him and cautions that they’ll lose investigative authority if Tae-ha’s deeds are made public. Is Shi-mok okay with the police running the show?
When Shi-mok refuses to cooperate, the deputy prosecutor general asks if he wants to be responsible for stripping them of their investigative authority. Shi-mok notes that he’s not the one to blame for the abuse and misuse of the citizen-granted power that has been turned into a bargaining tool. He leaves with the deputy prosecutor general screaming after him that he’ll make him pay.
As Shi-mok strides down the hallway, everything turns bright white and dreamlike. He stares at an image of Chang-joon, Eun-soo, Chief Prosecutor Kang, and Se-won laughing together. A hand grips his shoulder, and Shi-mok turns to see Dong-jae heading to join the group.
Chang-joon puts up a hand to stop him. From behind Dong-jae, Shi-mok nods at Chang-joon who responds with a small smile. They all turn and file out, leaving Dong-jae and Shi-mok behind. Eun-soo turns and gives one last look before disappearing into the white.
Shi-mok is awakened by his phone. It’s Chief Prosecutor Kang, standing outside the ICU. He thinks of Director Park’s orders to leave Hanjo alone and ensure no one brings up the villa. He struggles to find the words, leaving Shi-mok confused by his silence. The ICU door suddenly opens, and Chief Prosecutor Kang hurriedly says he has to go.
Chief Prosecutor Kang catches a glimpse of Dong-jae as a doctor and nurses flock to his bedside, asking if he can hear them. Chief Prosecutor Kang goes searching through the hospital for Dong-jae’s family. Shortly after, Dong-jae opens his eyes to nurses and his wife by his bedside. He’s unresponsive to their questions, but he lightly squeezes his wife’s hand.
The following day, Gun picks up some PPL coffee and heads to the station where Team Leader Choi informs him the Council has officially been disbanded. Gun doesn’t see it as a loss since all they did was fight. Team Leader Choi worries about the state of the country, but Gun argues things are still improving little by little.
At the National Police Agency, Director Shin addresses Chief Choi’s team. He claims Director Kim felt guilty but was caught by the prosecution on another charge before he could come clean. Suuure. He shares that the government and Judiciary Committee will make the decision on investigatory authority now. Since the Reformation Unit will also be disbanded, most officers will join the Intelligence Bureau.
Yeo-jin’s two hostile colleagues pull her aside to talk. The gist is they want her to leave. She’s best suited to fieldwork, so they’ll talk to Director Shin about transferring her back to Yongsan. Chief Choi was her only connection, and everyone knows Yeo-jin is responsible for what happened to her. Yeo-jin is over their bullying and tells them to bring it on. She’s done going easy on them.
Shortly after they leave in a huff, Gun calls and invites her to drink with the Yongsan team. She cries as he amiably chats about where to go and what foods she likes. She asks if all is good there, and he updates her about Hoo-jung being sent to the detention center.
He asks if she’s okay, and she fights to keep her voice steady and upbeat. After she hangs up, Gun and the others – they’re in the van – worry about her being ostracized and bullied. Team Leader Choi hopes she’ll return to Yongsan before worse happens. Meanwhile, Yeo-jin wipes her tears and tries to pull herself together.
Sa-hyun informs Shi-mok that he’ll be sent back to his original post in Wonju in a week and chuckles at Shi-mok’s typical nonresponse. They discuss Tae-ha, and Shi-mok observes that he’s someone who’s been justifying his actions to himself for a long time.
Sa-hyun observes that they wouldn’t need to fight over investigatory authority if everyone worked like Shi-mok and Yeo-jin (hear, hear). It hits him that Tae-ha and Chief Choi worked together too, but that didn’t turn out well.
As they head out, the deputy prosecutor general passes by without a word. Sa-hyun suggests Shi-mok try to live quietly from now on but surmises from his silence that it’s unlikely.
At Hanjo, Director Park informs Yeon-jae that Chief Prosecutor Kang just resigned. Whoa. Yeon-jae (in a fantastic suit) meets with him, and he shares that the prosecution is already looking into Hanjo’s connection with the Kwang-soo case.
When Yeon-jae guesses Shi-mok is investigating, Chief Prosecutor Kang tells her to leave him alone. She scoffs, wondering if he thought that would move her. He considers her and remarks that Chang-joon’s biggest mistake was “being sold off to Hanjo Group and meeting you.” Ouch.
Director Park tries to manhandle him out, but Chief Prosecutor Kang shakes him off. Had she left Chang-joon alone, he wouldn’t have died. Yeon-jae asserts that her husband exposed all the dirty deeds of her family. Yes, he would’ve lived differently if not for her, but she’s not sorry.
“Do his last moments have to affect the work I do?!” She doesn’t see why his wishes should dictate the way she runs her company. When she asserts that no organization is affected by a single person, Chief Prosecutor Kang reminds her that every organization is made up of people. She has the power to do things differently than her father.
His words affect her, and she turns from him with angry tears in her eyes as he continues that Dong-jae is awake but not out of the woods. Her husband trusted Shi-mok until his last. “Please don’t harm them.”
Once he leaves, Director Park tries to refocus her attention on beating Sung-jae. She instructs him to find out who’s in charge of the case.
Elsewhere, Shi-mok waits for Yeo-jin at a restaurant. She cut her hair again! He keeps staring at it and finally says it’s like when they first met. She playfully swishes it back and forth, claiming she looks exactly the same.
He wanted to meet since he’s leaving for his new office over the weekend. She’s disappointed and asks who’s taking over his cases. He just knows they’re being sent to the Central Office.
Yeo-jin wonders if the higher-ups will be replaced with more honest people. She notices how tired Shi-mok looks, and he explains his dream of the old gang that kept him up. They were all going somewhere, although Dong-jae stopped along the way and Chief Prosecutor Kang went off alone.
She ticks off that Dong-jae woke up, and Chief Prosecutor Kang resigned, so those make sense. She puzzles over the fact that Se-won went with Chang-joon and Eun-soo, though. Yeo-jin laments that Shi-mok probably won’t have time to go anywhere before he leaves. (Is she thinking of visiting Se-won?)
Yeo-jin pours him a drink and wishes him well, laughing that they keep doing this. He wishes her well and her lackluster response makes him wonder if she truly will be okay. She smiles and assures him she will. They drink, and Shi-mok regards her as she enthusiastically eats.
While Shi-mok leaves for Wonju, Yeon-jae goes to visit Dong-jae who’s still not fully conscious. From the other side of the curtain, Dong-jae’s wife hears her say that Chang-joon didn’t only trust Shi-mok; he treasured and worried about Dong-jae, too.
She creepy whispers in Dong-jae’s ear that he’s the only one connecting her with Kwang-soo now – she already handled Kwang-soo’s family. Her “get well soon” sounds more like a threat now.
Aw, Yeo-jin does go to see Se-won. He’s surprised to see her again. She tells him she found out who sent him that package: Park Moo-sung’s son. He blinks in confusion, but she says she’s seen it before. Sometimes this kind of thing makes victims feel at peace.
He can ask Moo-sung’s son himself for the reason later. Yeo-jin believes that Se-won’s mistake doesn’t define him. It’s possible he’ll get a package with the sender’s name and maybe even a visit from him one day. She promises to visit again in a few months.
At Yongsan, Gun questions Ki-hyuk again, informing him of Tae-ha’s dismissal. Does Ki-hyuk want to take all the blame? Ki-hyuk starts talking. That “washing the dishes” note was just to confuse them; the main order was to not make the police watch too noticeable. Tae-ha questioned Ki-hyuk once, which is how they met.
After the questioning, the Yongsan team welcomes a new member. They can’t help but look saddened as they clean out Yeo-jin’s desk for him. Yeo-jin, meanwhile, reports to her new office at the Intelligence Bureau where she’s promptly ignored by her colleagues.
Elsewhere, Shi-mok meets with Chief Prosecutor Kang (that country ajusshi getup, though) by the river. They bring up Tae-ha who still hasn’t been arrested, although Shi-mok is sure he’ll be indicted. Chief Prosecutor Kang has been refusing offers from law firms and wonders how long of a break he needs to take for things to be okay. He’s not a fan of Shi-mok’s straightforward reply that he can’t erase his past no matter how long he does this.
Chief Prosecutor Kang didn’t resign because of Hanjo but because he did give preferential treatment. If he hadn’t hurriedly closed the Tongyeong case, he could’ve noticed something was off with Hoo-jung and spared Dong-jae and others who suffered.
Meanwhile, Min-ha opens an envelope from Shi-mok with the Segok case file and a note explaining the bullying situation. He tasks her with making sure the police don’t cover it up.
As Shi-mok arrives at his new office, Chang-joon narrates that chasing the truth and what’s right is a never-ending process where even a moment’s stopping leads to failure. You keep marching forward “in the belief that a handful of hope is better than immeasurable despair.”
The new director of the Intelligence Bureau arrives (cameo by Kim Won-hae) and immediately walks up to Yeo-jin, saying he’s heard a lot about her from Chief Choi. There’s a lot of surprised looks from her colleagues as he smiles and shakes her hand. Yeo-jin smiles to herself at her desk.
Dong-jae arrives (with a cast on his arm) at the Central Office where he’s greeted by a gaggle of journalists. He smiles at his wife before turning his signature haughty look on the journalists and heading inside. The prosecutor asks if Kwang-soo had a connection with Hanjo. Dong-jae leans forward, looking straight into the camera, but we don’t hear his reply.
At his new office, Shi-mok turns when someone calls his name. Aw, it’s his old investigator from season one who’s thrilled they’ll be in neighboring offices. He’s so adorably excited that Shi-mok remembers his hometown it makes Shi-mok smile. As he rattles off random locations in response to Shi-mok asking if he knows his hometown, Shi-mok’s smile gets even bigger.
A great ending to a great drama. I found the open ending fitting. The situation may not be fully resolved, but Shi-mok and Yeo-jin’s roles in the investigations are over. Bringing the responsible parties to justice is a process that will take time and, unfortunately, isn’t guaranteed. While we know Hoo-jung has been charged and can be pretty sure Tae-ha, Director Kim, and Chief Choi will have to take responsibility for their actions, it’s a toss up whether Hanjo will have any negative repercussions. That could very well depend on if Dong-jae chooses to testify against them or back them up, a point on which the drama frustratingly left us hanging. On the topic of Hanjo, I do have to say that I found that element of the story the least engaging. I never much cared about the company politics, so Hanjo only interested me in so far as it directly related to our cases. It may also have to do with Yeon-jae. I think she had the potential to be a really interesting character, but she was pretty isolated from all except her minions, and I had a harder time connecting to her. I wish she’d gotten to interact more with other characters since I liked her interactions with Dong-jae earlier in the season, as well as with Chief Prosecutor Kang.
I was happy with where we left our characters on the whole, though. Some were set in their choices like Tae-ha and Yeon-jae who unrepentantly continued on their paths. Others like Chief Prosecutor Kang and Chief Choi knew they’d crossed lines and chose to accept the consequences and reflect on their actions. This series presents a lot of layered, interesting characters, and I think Chief Choi caught my attention most this season. She was an ambitious woman who was put in a terrible position and made the wrong decision, after which she continued to put her career before ethics. But I’m glad to see she chose to voluntarily admit her crimes and step down in the end. I never thought she was beyond redemption, and I hope she learns from her mistakes. I loved Shi-mok’s appeal to Chief Choi simply based on his trust in Yeo-jin’s instincts. He knew she couldn’t be hopeless if Yeo-jin had seen something in her.
In case I haven’t made it clear enough, I love Shi-mok and Yeo-jin’s partnership so much. Their mutual trust, support, and understanding allows them to work toward a common goal knowing they’ve got each other’s backs. It’s rare to see this kind of platonic relationship between a man and woman in dramaland, which makes it even more special. They may have polar opposite personalities, but their conviction and ideals bind them together. No matter the consequences, they can’t help but live according to their principles. Thankfully, the repercussions weren’t as bad as they could’ve been this time. Shi-mok may have gotten transferred again, but it’s nothing he didn’t expect. Plus, he has a friend in his new office this time! How perfect was it that we ended once again on Shi-mok’s smile? But this time, it was genuine and not for practice. I think it’s the first time we’ve seen him smile at someone besides Yeo-jin. As for Yeo-jin, she toughed it out and went to the Intelligence Bureau where she has a chance of making a difference. Although I’m sad she won’t be back with her Yongsan team, it feels like the right decision for her. That new boss seems promising, so hopefully she won’t be ostracized; seeing her being bullied and crying the once was enough. At least her Yongsan team still has her back. It’ll take time, but I trust that Yeo-jin will figure things out and be okay. She already got her old hair back, which felt so symbolic – a fresh start and a return to herself all in one. Now we just need her to start giving “presents” again.
In a genre that often glamorizes and sensationalizes investigative work by police and prosecutors, this drama’s realism is a breath of fresh air. For that reason, although I’m glad he’s alive, I do find Dong-je’s miraculous survival and recovery after being held for days, bludgeoned, and tossed off the roadside while bound and gagged a bit eyebrow raising. I mean, if anyone could manage to survive, it would be our weasel-y prosecutor, but this seems like a stretch even for him. Also, I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see him interact with Shi-mok after he woke up. Their reluctant partnership was a highlight in the first half of the season, and I’d hoped we get at least one more conversation between them before it was all over.
I was such a fan of the first season that as excited as I was for another, I was also nervous that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. My fears were unfounded. We were working off similar themes as the first season – power and corruption – but this time, it was a messier, deeper dive spanning multiple institutions and cases. The way it all linked together was masterful. This is a drama that rewards you the longer you stick with it. This season was a much slower burn, which may not be to everyone’s taste. In the early episodes, it felt less focused and gripping than the first season, but once we got going, I was fully hooked. What seemed like a more meandering approach turned out to be an intentionally messier story that wove together details and cases that at first glance were only loosely connected. Whereas season one zoomed in on the issue of corruption by focusing predominantly on individuals, season two panned out to emphasize the institutional role in this systemic problem. But like Chief Prosecutor Kang said, all organizations are made of people who still have the choice to either participate in said system or stand up to it. I loved the nuanced explorations of the dynamics within the justice system. I never would’ve thought lengthy discussions about investigatory authority could be so interesting. The fact that this was centered around a real, recent issue of much debate made it all the more fascinating. (For all who are curious as to the real life outcome, it looks like the police were recently granted the right to close investigations.)
Although I loved season one, I’m glad this season took a somewhat different approach. It maintained its definitive Forest of Secrets vibe, but it avoided feeling repetitive. And we still got the tightly written mystery/criminal procedural that’s clever without relying on gotcha moments or red herrings. One of the things I love about this series is that it doesn’t treat the audience like they’re stupid and over explain everything; it’s complicated with a lot of moving pieces, but it trusts that you can keep up. It’d be easy for a show like this to get convoluted, but the strong writing, editing, and directing worked together to tell a cohesive story that stayed focused and engaging. And, of course, the stellar cast brings it all home. This series is a great example of what happens when all the creative elements bring their A game and work in tandem to create something truly special. Bring on season three! (…please?)
- Premiere Watch: Forest of Secrets 2
- Jo Seung-woo, Bae Doo-na go head-to-head in new teaser for Forest of Secrets 2
- A new conspiracy unfolds in teaser for Forest of Secrets 2
- The cast of tvN’s Forest of Secrets 2 gather for first script reading
- Jo Seung-woo confirms second season of Forest of Secrets