As the investigation into Seo Dong-jae’s (Lee Joon-hyuk) kidnapping begins, we have quite a few surprises waiting for us. There is Dong-jae’s wife, who is acting strangely; the suspect in Sergeant Song’s death, Kim Su-hang, who exhibits a 180-degree change from what we had been expecting; and finally, two major characters, who we couldn’t have guessed would ever work together, revealed to be friends. The entanglement of various cases is starting to look, quite aptly, like a forest of secrets. Will Shi-mok (Cho Seung-woo) and Yeo-jin (Bae Doo-na) be able to find their way?
Dong-jae’s wife (Choi Hee-seo) appears too unbothered for someone whose husband has been kidnapped. She seems more worried about her family’s information being exposed to the public than her husband’s safety. We find out the reason soon enough; Shi-mok catches on that the couple had been separated for a while, and Dong-jae had been sleeping at the night duty room in his office. He tries to rile up the wife for more information, accusing her of having an affair, when she finally cracks and asks the police to investigate her husband instead of ganging up on her. The cops finally convince her to record a video, pleading the public for information on her husband’s whereabouts.
Prosecutor Kim Sa-hyun (Kim Young-jae) reminisces about Lee Chang-jun with Shi-mok and tries to offer comfort, assuming that Shi-mok must be worried for his senior Dong-jae. Our resident emotionless prosecutor just nods along, completely nonchalant. However, immediately after, Shi-mok suffers from another attack of tinnitus. If I remember correctly, it was established in the last season that Shi-mok gets these attacks when he’s feeling feelings he can’t quite express. This is proof of how Shi-mok isn’t as emotionless as we, the viewers, and even he believes himself to be.
Shi-mok also pays a visit to Hanjo Group’s headquarters to see Yeon-jae (Yoon Se-ah) and ask why her people were in touch with Dong-jae. Managing Director Park (Jung Sung-il) reveals that he had asked Dong-jae to look into the Eastern Prosecutor’s Office, who Hanjo Group have been locking horns with. It seems Park lied to Shi-mok on Yeon-jae’s behalf, which is strange, because I don’t trust that he’s completely loyal to Yeon-jae either. Last season, he was Yeon-jae’s father’s secretary, so I wonder if he’s secretly giving him information while pretending to work for her. When she leaves to meet Oh Ju-seon without him, he goes so far as to follow her, almost as if he is tailing her.
I wonder if Dong-jae really intended to betray both his seniors and juniors at the prosecution to earn Yeon-jae’s favor. Even weirder is when Woo Tae-ha (Choi Moo-sung) finds out that Shi-mok visited Hanjo and freezes so hard that everyone around him notices. Wow, it seems like Dong-jae’s appearance being linked to Hanjo is causing a lot of people to worry. Choi Bit (Jeon Hye-jin), too, has been tense since Dong-jae’s disappearance. But a fun new development was that for a brief while, the show offered us a glimpse into her as a mom instead of her usual intimidating self.
Yeo-jin’s appointment as the leader on Dong-jae’s case leads to a bit of awkwardness with her team at Yongsan Police Station. Her authority now overrides Team Leader Choi’s (Jeon Bae-su), which he is visibly awkward about because she used to be his junior. Yeo-jin, for her part, takes over the investigation with a poise and control mirroring Choi Bit’s and divides her men into two teams—one to retrace Dong-jae’s steps and another to look into the Segok case, which Dong-jae was investigating before he disappeared. Shi-mok also joins the teams.
Police finally trace Kim Su-hang (Kim Bum-soo), who acts nothing like the violent bully we have seen in the flashbacks so far. It seems that prison changed him, or so he’s pretending. Kim has been volunteering at a care home for the elderly and tells Yeo-jin that neither Captain Baek nor his uncle, the former police chief, asked him to bully Sergeant Song. He also denies having contact with his uncle recently and cries a lot, seeming to regret his actions. This naturally makes Yeo-jin suspicious, because from what we know so far, Kim Su-hang bullied Sergeant Song the hardest. Sure, a person can change, but this one is a little difficult to believe.
For his part, Shi-mok, along with Dong-jae’s Assistant Prosecutor and mentee Jung Min-ha (Park Ji-yeon) interviews Captain Baek (Jung Seung-gil) again, who parrots the same story back at them—that they never bullied Song and instead tried to help him through his depression. He is consistently arrogant and refuses to crack even a little. The Segok suspects are all parroting the exact same story without fail, which naturally raises suspicions as well as points to the fact that their protection is iron-clad.
In the surprise of all surprises, Chief Choi and Woo Tae-ha meet up in a private bar. I suspected that it’s possible these two are working together, but their association seems to go long back. Turns out it was Woo who had warned Chief Choi about the Park Gwang-su case when Dong-jae first brought it up with him. Both of them seem worried about Hanjo being involved in Dong-jae’s case. They mention a past incident, which leads me to believe that perhaps both of them are involved in Park Gwang-su’s death.
Meanwhile, Yeon-jae has tasked the sneaky Oh Ju-seon (Kim Hak-sun) with keeping an eye on Choi Bit and finding out how she’s related to Park Gwang-su. Oh is good at laying out traps, so he convinces the former Director of Intelligence Bureau—currently in jail for leaking case details—to let him take on the case and then uses the opening to secure a meeting with Choi Bit. However, Yeo-jin recognizes Oh and lets Choi Bit know, after which Choi raises up her guard around the man.
This episode ends on yet another cliffhanger, which I love. It is only after these successive cliffhangers it has finally started to feel like Stranger is back. An active police officer is named the suspect in Dong-jae’s case, much to the shock of the police side. Two of Chief Choi Bit’s underlings at the reform team share a nervous look with each other, which is pinging on my radar. This is immediately followed by Choi Bit herself calling up Woo Tae-ha in a panic. Now I’m very curious about what these two are cooking up together. I know it will be a while before the show gives us any conclusive answers, but I’m strapped in for the ride!