This post contains spoilers for the second half of the drama.
I could wax lyrical about the plotting of this drama. It is that good. In fact, I have done so elsewhere. Part 2 is an excellent culmination of Part 1 which was set up to perplex with its juxtaposition of flashbacks with an ongoing investigation. Of course I’m of the view that these dramas should never be split in the first place (especially considering that they’re only 12 episodes) which is why I watch them and think of them as a single entity. But since I’m in a rather busy period of my life right now juggling multiple commitments, I decided to go along with the official naming of parts.
I’ve never been much of a fan Jang Geun-seuk but overall he’s decent enough in the role of Detective Gu Do-han. The facial hair certainly gives him more gravitas and a world-weariness that’s needed. But it’s really his voice that has the greatest appeal — it’s both soothing and reassuring especially when everyone around him loses their heads. Until there’s something that hits a nerve with him. He doesn’t really carry the show as one might expect the lead detective to do so especially with all the acting heavyweights taking centre stage around him at various times. On the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if Heo Seung-tae gets some kind of acting nomination down the track because even for an actor who is highly adept at playing nasty characters, he outdid himself here with his gestures and vocals.
That said, Detective Gu is an important outsider here as the most objective observer of events in which he had no involvement in. While he is often relegated to the role of chorus in this pieces of theatre, he does come into his own. Unlike everyone else he never loses himself and his ideals even living with his “ghost” — the death of his sister.
Although it’s obvious from the first that Decoy is in essence a very old timeless tale about greed, the spiritual reverberations didn’t hit me until the final two episodes once we get past the procedural elements. I suppose watching three people trekking through snow in near blizzard conditions can do that to you. At the end of the drama when Detective Gu is in pursuit of the villain of the piece in biting weather one senses a supernatural intervention at work. The villain is up to his old tricks while on the run. He has all the pieces in place. An exit strategy included. Yet, even with all his smarts he cannot factor in all the variables. Nor can he overcome nature. For a man who has caused so much grief and remained unrepentant to the last, it is poetic justice rather than human justice that way hold sway. The message is clear. A resolute clever villain can’t be brought down by ordinary means. Supernatural aid is needed. Hence the weather event. Plus a handful of individuals who don’t act according to the script that said villain has penned.
The show’s antagonist is depicted here as the epitome of greed and its pernicious grip on the human heart. Right to the bitter end his greed and his ability to manipulate the greed of others is a mainstay. There’s no remorse. No redemption arc. And rightfully so. He might not be the devil himself but he is a type of Mephistopheles, a go-between who lures unsuspecting souls to sign faustian pacts with the devil. It’s an allegory inspired by the faustian lore. The original pyramid scheme condemns those who signed along the dotted line to an endless stream of suffering as long as they walk on earth. Their desires and greed take them captive. Despite all that the victims continue to hold out hope that they can pay their way out of their torment until they finally accept that they can’t. They desperation like their trust is diabolically used against them.
In the end, the villain is brought down by his own hubris and overreach. His revenge plan sounds foolproof except that it can’t consider every possibility. There’s more than a suggestion that his downfall is inevitable. Just before he’s beyond the reach of human law, reporter Cheon Na-yeon pronounces the equivalent of curses that will follow him to the afterlife. He will be met by those he hurt there and be condemned to eternal hell haunted by his misdeeds.
A creature like that though doesn’t exist on his own. While he is definitely the product of a profoundly materialistic culture that hovers in the landscape, he is also the progeny of the rot of the system which props up the oligarchs/technocrats at the expense of the individual that walks the streets whose hopes and dreams are weaponized against them.
There are far too many deaths before the end. Greed apparently has that sort of destructive effect on the world. It’s not even the fact that greed itself leads to murder and mayhem although it obviously does but that there’s the knock-on effects for social institutions and families. It’s a relief that at the end of the day what a man reaps, he sows. Greed is inherently self-destructive even if there are short-term consequences.
If anyone is wondering if this show is any good, I'd say go for it because the current MDL rating doesn't reflect the quality of this script which does require a great deal of concentration to make sense of. This is a good K drama. In all likelihood it's one of the best we'll probably see this year considering the misfires and mediocrity we've been hit with the last two plus years.
Of course Part 2 can't exist without Part 1 but Part 2 feels more assured because it demonstrates in clear terms how masterful the plotting is. I'm chuffed that that my speculations were right (it was only logical) but I have to give the show a lot of credit for its artful execution of the plot. Moreover the show boasts a fantastic antagonist -- one of the best I've ever seen in K drama and I don’t doubt that it had made all the difference. On the downside it does mean, as I’ve already intimated, a more reactive role for the show’s main protagonists.
With that in mind I’ve been wondering how much greed is animating this new trend of splitting dramas into two when it’s clear that these shows aren’t made to be split in two. It seems to me counterproductive in most instances because if anyone’s like me, they’d likely not bother with watching the show until the entire series is made available. So a genre show like this will be put on hold and go under the radar completely in favour of something else. These streaming platforms must know something I don’t but I can’t see how this improves PR or increases/retains the subscriber base. From where I’m looking while the entry of new streaming platforms to the SK market may provide more job opportunities for the locals there, it’s becoming evident to many of us that quantity has triumphed over quality recently. Because there are far too many shows on offer than there is time for most of us to consume, audiences will not be fully apprised of the catalogue in each season and go for the ones with the most hype. I’ve already subscribed to three platforms and this war among them is getting beyond ridiculous. It’s certainly not working to the advantage of end user. We’re four months into 2023 and I’ve already dropped more shows than I did in the past in the same time period. Frankly I don’t have time to persevere through even moderately mediocre shows. Tot that end I’ve started watching older dramas/movies lately. Picked up a couple of Taiwanese crime dramas as well — one older, one more recent. Aside from watchability both at least have the benefit of having reasonable endings. All of this seems to be indicating that going for proven products are the way to go in the future.
I'm so relieved to hear that Part 2 is solid. I made the mistake of watching the first half before the second half aired, and I've been putting off resuming the show because I would need to rewatch Part 1. I was pleasantly surprised by how intricate the plotting is (not at all what I expected from the synopsis), and I think the split season is a disservice to these types of shows. I can't imagine STRANGER (aka FOREST OF SECRETS) being split in half and expecting viewers to remember everything or appreciate all the nuances.
Since I haven't finished watching (and I prefer to do so spoiler-free), I'll be back to read the rest of your review! Now that I know that it has your stamp of approval, I'm moving it up my list.
P.S. Are you enjoying the Taiwanese crime dramas you're watching and/or would you recommend?