The Good Detective 2 (2022) A Review
West Incheon’s favourite good cops Kang Do-chang (Son Hyun-joo and Oh Ji-hyeok (Jang Seung-jo) are back again for another season of murder, mayhem and manipulation with the rest of the lads from Team 2 who are much more of a cohesive fighting machine than once they were. They are still led by Team Leader Woo Bong-shik (Jo Hee-bong), a perpetual nervous wreck whose timidity regarding what they're up against is only equalled by his fear of his wife’s nagging and their chief, Moon Sang Beom (Son Jong-hak) who lives for that holy grail promotion that’s just around the corner.
In this series the team tangles first of all with a serial killer in their neighbourhood with a fetish for young women in white. When they finally get their man they play a rather protracted, elaborate game of cat and mouse with a family-run conglomerate, TJ Group who seem to be at the centre of domestic violence and possibly crimes of passion. At the start the patriarch (Song Yang-chang) of TJ Group is spending time behind bars for dubious business practices and the company is left to the devices of his contentious offspring Cheon Sang-woo (Choi Dae-hoon), Cheon Na-na (Kim Hyo-jin) and son-in-law Woo Tae-ho (Jung Moon-sung). The half siblings duke it out for supremacy while Woo Tae-ho, also head of the legal team, is caught between their ferocious rivalry. Their story is both high melodrama and a psychological battle of wits rolled into one.
The thing to note first of all about this franchise is that this never purports to be a police procedural about the nobility of the boys in blue. Far from it. Indeed it is a show about cops — warts and all. The official English title is somewhat misleading and would be better translated from the original as The Model Detective. That said Do-chang and Ji-hyeok aren’t perfect men (Ji-hyeok comes pretty close) but they are the closest thing to diligence and smarts as one might get from this rag tag bunch of investigators. The two men are as alike as chalk and cheese but in very significant ways define what this abstract model detective looks like. Do-chang is all heart and emotionally driven. He sympathizes deeply with the victims’ families which is evidenced by his relationship his adopted daughter and their relationship with the victim's grandfather. Having lost his father to a cold blooded killing, Oh Ji-hyeok isn’t just intellectually committed to cracking every case, he is absolutely determined to catch every single perpetrator that comes his way. He is depicted as the consummate detective and he’s earned the respect of his colleagues to the extent that his intelligence guides the discourse in the office. The maknae of the team Shim Dong-wook shows plenty of promise except that his Achilles’ heel seems to be his ne’er do well brother Dong-il who seems to fall prey to all kinds of schemes concocted by those whose aim is to divide and conquer.
Unlike your garden variety police procedural, getting to the bottom of the mystery isn’t the main thing here. There aren’t any intractable mysteries or supervillains here. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to look elsewhere. Like many K crime shows, knowing who’s responsible isn’t the end of the story or sufficient cause for an arrest because proof is hard to come by. Meanwhile the perpetrators are protected by layers political clout or vested interests which reflects how any kind of business is done in that part of the world. Truth isn’t just a casualty, it’s barely relevant in such a context. In the end one might appeal to self-interest, financial incentives, threats, and political expediency but very seldom is righteous fervour or a well-developed sense of justice part of the equation. Within this dog eat dog ecosystem, detectives see themselves as a link in the food chain and they might want to negotiate for a better deal than what the public service can offer them. It isn’t just a case of survival of the fittest but a submission to the status quo — to the way things are. Jang Ki-jin which is this season’s corrupt cop alongside Choi Yong-geun an ex-cop now enjoying the benefits of being a stooge of TJ group represents a sample of what’s wrong with the public service: It is dominated by capable but ambitious individuals who use their previous service as a stepping stone to getting in bed with the rich and powerful.
Woo Tae-ho, who is another new face in the franchise, is a morally enigmatic figure. Without his inclusion in the mix, the TJ Group would be just another feuding chaebol family. He’s a mediator, a broker and the protector in a messy situation. Somewhere along the way the former prosecutor got mired in that family’s misdemeanours to the extent that he became the family’s lap dog cleaning up after them. His moral compass has gone awry in service of the woman he married. Perhaps that’s why he became attracted to the deceased Jung Hee-joo, a subordinate, who was something of a misfit in that environment. Tae-ho’s dynamic with his wife Cheon Na-na is tragically compounded by layers of irreparable misunderstandings. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like they’re two people who may lingering feelings for each other but an insurmountable wall has sprung up between them with neither wanting to make the first move to repair matters. There’s little trust on her side and there’s plenty of guilt on his. Na-na whose mental state is fragile despite the bravado clearly frames herself as the victim in the Cheon family dysfunction. She teeters back and forth on the edge of the abyss between stylish poise and wretched madness. It’s a masterful performance by Kim Hyo-jin. Without a doubt her chemistry with Jung Moon-sung is one of the more arresting parts of the show. Jung Moon-sung is one of those truly underrated actors who has the versatility and the charisma to be a male lead but for some reason that status has eluded him thus far.
In the end “Why was Jung Hee-joo killed?” is perhaps a far more difficult question to answer than “Who killed Jung Hee-joo?” The answer to the first question is far more psychologically complex than one might think. But at the end of the day, it’s a question that’s much more of interest to a viewer like me than the conspirators who are trying to misdirect and impede the investigation. For those of us who were raised on the teat of western crime fiction, it might be something of an anticlimax that the answers that her grandfather seeks can only be found only after a series of negotiations, accommodation and political compromises. However, such is the reality of that world. At least the cops can console themselves with the belief that the dead woman’s family can get some closure.
In an ensemble such as this with veterans and well-regarded characters, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the performances will be stellar across the board. The actors contribute in large part to making this viewing experience an immersive one. It is a male-centric story and one of my great delights is watching the Team 2 camaraderie at work. The banter between the leads and among their colleagues never fails to amuse. Each deliver a punchline with flair especially when it's not heard by the others. What began to flower in S1 has developed into a bit of an art in this series. The dialogue spiced with wit and irony is music to the ears. Despite the ribbing and backhanded serves of chastisement, these men do really care about each other — they can be relied upon to have each other’s backs when the chips are down. Often it is a testosterone filled space that they occupy but I relish every single moment that I spend with these men.
It’s no secret that I’m slightly in love with Oh Ji-hyeok partly because of Jang Seung-jo and he does play the character in a thoughtful understated way. Despite his superior skill set, Ji-hyeok is a team player and the running gags about his good looks and his wealth oddly enough never gets old. His double act with the grumpy but passionate Kang Do-chan (Son Hyun-soo) is more often than not comedy gold.
This show is a fine example of how to do core characters well — to imbue them with distinct personalities and give them character arcs that often test their mettle. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to note that many crime shows do such a good job with the antagonists that often the protagonists fade innocuously into the background. Not so here. The drama is clear on what its roots are and where its focus should ultimately be right to its humorous ending.