Tracer: Episodes 9-16 (Series review)
A story about tax officers chasing after corrupt money sounds boring on paper, but Tracer manages to create a compelling and thrilling show from start to finish. With a strong cast, tightly written plot, and quick pacing, the second half of the show is even better than the first. If you have been looking for a fun drama where the villains get what they deserve, this is one show you do not want to miss.
Quick summary of the story so far: Hwang Dong-joo joins the National Tax Service (NTS) and becomes the new team leader of Department Five in the Central Regional Tax Office. His ultimate goal is to reform the NTS, but behind that lofty dream is another motive: finding the truth behind his father’s sudden death. In order to do so, Hwang Dong-joo must dismantle the current system, which means destroying the five department heads under Executive Director In Tae-joon, the man behind it all.
The following review contains spoilers for the show. The recaps have been divided into episode chunks, so feel free to skip certain sections if you are not caught up with the show.
EPISODES 9-10 WEECAP: SANJO BANK
Reflecting the opening scene in Episode 1, the show starts off with present-day Dong-joo standing at the site of his father’s accident. This time, though, he imagines Director In Tae-joon at the scene, stumbling away from his father’s car with a notebook in his hands.
To understand why this all occurred, the show rewinds back to 2017. After making a risky gamble on the presidential election, Director In and his team found themselves in danger of losing their positions. In order to gain leverage over the ruling party, Director In sought after Dong-joo’s father to obtain his secret ledger.
By threatening Director Lee Ki-dong (the head of Department One), Dong-joo learns that Director In got ahold of his father’s notebook and gave the original copy to Ryu Yong-shin (the CFO of PQ Group) while keeping a USB file himself.
At this point, Dong-joo has mostly solved the Gold Cash case, but the real trouble now is proving CFO Ryu as the backer. The next step in his plan is to attack Sanjo Bank, but this also means going after Vice Commissioner Min since her husband is the vice president of the bank.
As the prosecutors investigate Sanjo Bank in relation to Gold Cash, they come to the conclusion that the ringleader is an employee named Han Kyung-mo. However, when they search his home, they find blood marks inside and video footage of him running away. This gives the head prosecutor, who is conspiring with Director Lee, the perfect chance to switch the case to violence crimes and drop Gold Cash.
Dong-joo is dispatched along with Seo Hye-young to help the prosecution with the case, and they take this opportunity to do some sleuthing of their own. They quickly learn that Han Kyung-mo is not well-liked in the office and has no connection to PQ Group which makes him unlikely to be the leader.
A deeper investigation into Sanjo Bank reveals an even more sinister scheme brewing under the surface: the bank deliberately targets certain companies and denies them loans, forcing them into bankruptcy. The team uncovers, once again, that PQ Group is behind this, and the true leader relaying orders from Gold Cash was Sanjo Bank Manager Nam Joo-seung who is colluding with Director Lee. If you thought things were confusing now, it gets even more convoluted.
As it turns out, Han Kyung-mo was actually the whistleblower who was going to reveal everything, but Manager Nam confronted him which led to an altercation. While exchanging blows, Han Kyung-mo thought he accidentally killed the manager and decided to get rid of the body. However, Manager Nam was fine, and instead, he used this opportunity to blackmail Han Kyung-mo and make him take responsibility for Gold Cash.
The prosecutors bring Manager Nam in for questioning and accuse him of killing Han Kyung-mo like he did his other junior 17 years ago. Remember when I said Sanjo Bank was nefarious? Apparently, their misdeeds have been happening for years, and they were part of the Myungjoo Electronics case as well.
Professing his innocence, Manager Nam tells them what happened the night he met Han Kyung-mo, and inadvertently confesses to the bank’s illegal loan refusals. He plays right into Dong-joo’s hand since they already knew about Han Kyung-mo’s fate and found the real culprit of the violent crimes case: his fiancée.
While interviewing Han Kyung-mo’s colleagues, Dong-joo and Hye-young met with his fiancée who worked in the data room at Sanjo Bank. After learning about Han Kyung-mo’s involvement in the loan refusal project, she searched the records and discovered Sanjo Bank’s connection to Myungjoo Electronics’ chain bankruptcy. Her father’s company was one of the victims back then, and she felt betrayed.
Having orchestrated the confrontation between Manager Nam and Han Kyung-mo, the fiancée watched in horror as the two men made a deal to cover up the loan refusals. Blinded by rage, she killed Han Kyung-mo and made it seem like he ran away.
EPISODES 11-13 WEECAP: JAESONG CONSTRUCTION
Director In takes a moment to fight back against Dong-joo and targets one of his teammates: Hye-young. She receives a newspaper clipping about Oh Young being in charge of the Myungjoo Electronics case, and the revelation leaves her feeling hurt and embarrassed.
In order to help her find closure, Dong-joo gives her the contact information of the reporter who was in charge of the case, but Hye-young already met him years ago. Ready to face the truth, Hye-young finds Oh Young one evening and tells him that she never forgot about the day he saved her. When others told her to die, she survived because of his words to live, and she feels guilty for being grateful. Wiping away his tears, Oh Young thanks her for surviving and tells her to come back to work.
In the meantime, the fight between Director In and Vice Commissioner Min starts in earnest as each side begins their attack. After verifying that Director In and CFO Ryu have split, Vice Commissioner Min joins hands with PQ Group.
She orders Director Jo Jin-ki (the head of Department One in the Central Regional Tax Office) to investigate Jaesong Construction: the company run by Director In’s in-laws. Though Director In has an antagonistic relationship with his late-wife’s family, an event in 2004 ties him to the company which they still use presently to blackmail him. Thus, the vice commissioner’s goal is to find that record.
Director Jo takes this deal to his longtime friend Oh Young and shows him the documents related to Jaesong Construction’s accounting fraud. Before Oh Young can agree to anything, Vice Commissioner Min’s side releases a statement to the press about Jaesong Construction’s collusion with a high official in the NTS, which everyone knows is an accusation against Director In.
Though Dong-joo thinks this is a trap, he agrees to help Oh Young under two conditions: they need to find evidence against Director In inside Jaesong Construction, and they need to verify that CFO Ryu has truly cut ties with Director In. The second condition seems easily met when Director In launches his attack and orders the NTS to audit PQ Group.
While Department Five begins its investigation into Jaesong Construction, Oh Young looks more closely into Director Jo and discovers that he was a spy for Director In this entire time. After searching the director’s call history, Oh Young finds a suspicious number which leads him to a paper company called Elvereign.
Recently in the news, rumors of a merger and acquisition related to PQ Group started circulating because of Elvereign owning a portion of PQ Holdings, and everyone believed Director In was involved. However, as Oh Young steps into the paper company’s building, he discovers that the CEO of Elvereign is CFO Ryu Yong-shin. Dong-joo was correct—this was all a trap to bring down the vice commissioner.
As Dong-joo and his team rush into Jaesong Construction, the accounting department is in utter chaos. The company is in the red and will go bankrupt in a matter of hours. The real issue is that Jaesong Construction took out loans from their subcontractors which means this will cause another chain bankruptcy like 17 years ago.
To make matters worse, the informant who supplied the documents about the accounting fraud in the first place is not actually a whistleblower and commits suicide, claiming to be under duress from the NTS. While everything crumbles around him, Dong-joo finds Director In’s final present: his father’s notebook. It contains all of his father’s crimes, including his culpability for Myungjoo Electronics’ downfall.
Cementing his win, Director In holds a press conference to profess his innocence. The only crime he committed was refusing to help Jaesong Construction which resulted in his wife’s death, and to prove his point, he reveals that the vice commissioner faked evidence against him because Jaesong Construction received large loans from Sanjo Bank.
Director In offers his rival a parting gift, and tells her to blame her husband for everything if she wants to survive. While the vice commissioner debates over her next move, Oh Young approaches her and informs her of the scam between Sanjo Bank and Elvereign. He believes in the vice commissioner who he once admired and knows she will do the right thing.
As Director In planned, the truth about his father causes Dong-joo to rethink everything, but right before he gives up, his teammates hold him back. Hye-young reminds Dong-joo that he has people by his side now and tells him to atone by surviving.
Renewing his resolve, Dong-joo meets with Director In and drops the formalities since they no longer have to keep up any pretenses. Though the director may blame his father for ruining his life, Dong-joo knows better and rightfully points out that Director In fell to the wayside because of his own ambitions. In the end, both men were in the wrong, and Dong-joo is prepared to make Director In pay for his crimes at last.
EPISODES 14-16 WEECAP: PQ GROUP
Before beating Director In, Department Five needs to solve the Jaesong Construction case, which begins with the dead informant. With In Do-hoon’s help, Dong-joo finds out that Director Jo was the one threatening the informant. Do-hoon convinces the informant’s daughter to testify, and with this, Director Jo is accused of misconduct and officially cut off by Director In.
Meanwhile, on PQ’s side, the little stunt pulled by Director In has tipped the balance, and now, CFO Ryu holds the upper hand. He strikes a deal with his half-brother, CEO Ryu Do-hyung, since his ultimate goal is to get revenge on their father and take over PQ Group. In order to complete a takeover, CFO Ryu needs at least three percent more of the stocks, which is where Jaesong Construction comes in.
After pushing back the due date of their loans for a couple of days, the directors at Jaesong Construction come up with a solution to avoid bankruptcy. They ask Department Five to lift the levy so they can have another construction company buy them out since CEO Seo Young-jae ran away with the money.
Oh Young agrees to let them hold a general meeting, but when the day comes, he suddenly stops them. According to their investigation, one of the directors at Jaesong Construction received bribes from PQ Group, and Oh Young reveals the higher-ups’ greedy plans to hand over Jaesong Construction’s stocks of PQ Holdings to CFO Ryu.
With everything suddenly coming to a screeching halt, Vice Commissioner Min deals the final blow. Holding a press conference, she reveals the scam between PQ Group and Sanjo Bank before resigning from her position.
Right before his eyes, CFO Ryu witnesses his short-lived empire collapse, and as he wallows in self-pity, Dong-joo interrupts him to offer a way out. He tells CFO Ryu that his father left him a final present: CFO Ryu’s criminal record and background information. Dong-joo knows that the CFO killed his stepfather, and his stepbrother—Secretary Joo—made up an alibi to cover for him.
Dong-joo promises to protect him from Director In, but CFO Ryu scoffs at his measly deal since he already has an insurance policy in place against the director. Soon after, the prosecutors barge into CFO Ryu’s office, and he follows them without a fuss.
Though Dong-joo and his team were able to stop CFO Ryu, they still need a way to avoid Jaesong Construction’s bankruptcy which consists of two problems. Hye-young takes charge of the first one which is finding the missing CEO, but in her search, she makes a strange discovery: Secretary Joo.
Changing tactics, the team traces the CEO’s money instead and quickly finds out that the chairman’s personal secretary was helping him all along. With that, they apprehend CEO Seo and reclaim the money he stole.
The second issue is finding a company big enough to buy Jaesong Construction, but with Director In actively blocking their progress, the task feels impossible. To complicate matters, Chairman Seo reclaimed his son’s stocks which makes him the largest shareholder, and he plans to sell the company as quickly as possible. Making the best out of their situation, Oh Young accepts the chairman’s deal as long as he testifies against the illegal association he was a member in that included a handful of large conglomerates.
After being released from the prosecution, CFO Ryu contacts Director In and sends him the footage of him at the accident site of Dong-joo’s father. The video rattles Director In who agrees to meet with the CFO at the same place, but unbeknownst to both men, Dong-joo has his team and the prosecutors tail them.
As CFO Ryu waits for the director, a car suddenly hits him from behind and nearly pushes him off the edge. Secretary Joo has returned for revenge, but while the two men fight, Dong-joo realizes what is happening and tells the prosecutors to intervene.
Hearing the sirens in the distance, CFO Ryu grabs the knife he hid in his glove box and slices Secretary Joo’s throat. He mumbles to himself that it was self-defense, and Secretary Joo realizes that his death will mean nothing like this. In his final breath, Secretary Joo hits the gas pedal and propels the car down the ravine — bringing both of them to their end.
Though CFO Ryu was their last hope to bring down Director In, Dong-joo and his team realize that they may have another option through Secretary Joo. They search around his apartment for a clue, and Dong-joo finds a hidden USB. They offer Director In a chance to confess before they reveal what they found, but Director In smirks at their bluff.
Despite Hye-young’s reservations, Dong-joo shares everything with Do-hoon and tells him that while all of this may have started with their fathers, it needs to end with them. He gives Do-hoon a chance to finally leave his father’s shadow, and Do-hoon accepts.
In order to help Dong-joo, Do-hoon goes into his father’s house to find any clues, but his flimsy attempt at espionage fails when Director In catches him in the act. With this, Director In has enough assurance that Dong-joo never had any evidence to topple him.
The morning of the National Tax Service’s meeting, Director In receives a message from the prosecutors and sees a video footage of Dong-joo leaving Secretary Joo’s apartment and flaunting his newly procured evidence to the camera. Director In calls Director Jang who was in charge of the inspection and learns that the director betrayed him to side with Dong-joo.
In the end, Department Five was able to stop the chain bankruptcy since they found a buyer: PQ Construction. They were able to convince the company to buy Jaesong Construction in order to obtain the PQ stocks which they could then use to separate themselves from PQ Group.
As Director In enters the empty conference hall, Dong-joo walks up to him and lists all his crimes. He asks why he did not save his father, and Director In finally admits that it was the easiest thing to do. He confesses that he did everything for his own gain and asks Dong-joo if he could have stopped if he was in his shoes.
Dong-joo tells the director that it was not too late for him to stop and reveals the video footage he found in Secretary Joo’s apartment. The clip shows CFO Ryu walking up to the car after Director In left and pushing it over the cliff.
Enraged, Director In grabs Dong-joo, demanding an explanation, but Dong-joo calmly points out that the meeting was never cancelled. Director In looks up in shock as he realizes that the cameras are recording, and the entire NTS witnesses the director’s true face.
Accepting his loss, Director In leaves the room and wordlessly shakes the hands of the NTS employees waiting outside. He walks to his office by himself, and alone in his room, he commits suicide.
Dong-joo is transferred to a different department now that his tasks have been accomplished, and before he leaves, he thanks Hye-young for giving him a chance all those years ago to find closure. Finally at peace, Dong-joo visits his father’s grave and grieves.
A year passes by, and the NTS is looking for a new commissioner. Of the candidates, Oh Young is a strong contender — he has also been promoted to a position at HQ — and Dong-joo smiles to himself as he reads the news.
Hye-young runs into Dong-joo while on a business trip, and the two of them step out for a quick chat. She invites him to visit them since things are boring without him, and they promise to meet each other again.
In the epilogue, an angry citizen claims to not have money to pay his taxes, so with a sigh, Dong-joo grabs his old hammer and gets down to work.
Tracer is a fun show that was met with some bad circumstances. A lack of official, international sources hurt the show’s chances to gain an audience outside of South Korea, but even within the country, the awkward scheduling and delays put a damper on its ratings. The only silver lining is that the streaming service did well, but in the long run, it raises questions about the future of Korean dramas and television networks. Despite the lack of buzz around the show, it did not deter my enjoyment of the drama nor the overall quality of the production. The show never lost sight of its core message and was an entertaining watch from start to finish.
Though this review split up the second half of the drama into chunks, the overall flow of the show should really be seen as a singular entity. Unlike the first part which inevitably had to deal with some setup, the second half delved right into the main conflict and barreled towards the end at full speed. Every little detail and connection served a purpose, and what could have been a series of contrived coincidences turned into the show’s overarching theme that the past cannot be outrun. Because the villains were allowed to do as they pleased, they kept repeating the same crimes and creating more and more victims. In the end, the show tells its audience that the system is corrupt because there are also bystanders who ignore these wrongdoings and allow the villains to go unchecked.
One of my favorite parts of the show was the relationship between Dong-joo and Do-hoon. The show used their relationship to mirror their fathers and highlight how the past influences the future. Though neither of them created the current situation, they became responsible for it because their fathers’ mistakes shaped their lives. The show then gave them the choice to walk down a different path, and I’m glad both men were able to find some closure from their terrible past.
While Tracer has plenty of memorable characters like Dong-joo and Do-hoon, I thought the villains were some of the most interesting ones, and I appreciated how the show gave them backstories to explain their actions yet never used them as a justification for their atrocities. I also found their ends to be appropriate with CFO Ryu Yong-shin meeting his end due to the consequences of his disloyalty which was the very thing that caused him so much pain in the first place, and In Tae-joon choosing the cowardly way out until the bitter end, unable to overcome his own weaknesses and face his fallibility. All in all, Tracer was an exhilarating watch, and my only wish is that more people could see it, because it’s much too good to be forgotten.