Review: The Good Detective

The Good Detective is a Korean television series starring Son Hyun-joo, Jang Seung-jo, Lee Elijah, Oh Jung-se and Ji Seung-hyun that aired on JTBC (Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company) from July 6 to August 25, 2020. The second season ran from July 30, 2022 to September 18, 2022. Both seasons are available to watch on Netflix. No word or confirmation of continuation of the series has been made or announced as of this posting.

The basic premise is rather simple. Kang Do-Chang (Son Hyun-joo) is a detective who has worked at the Incheon police force for 18 years and is the senior detective of the Violent Crimes Division 2. He investigates his cases using his experience and personal connections over scientific evidence and logical reasoning. His partner is Oh Ji-hyuk (Jang Seung-jo) a younger star, and rising, detective who relies more on evidence and insight into the criminal’s psyche unlike Kang Do-Chang. Ji-hyuk’s reasons for joining the police force also have complications that affect his investigations in the first season. These partners lead the Division 2 team to investigate crimes that show the corruption and terror capable by the rich, powerful, and elite.

These types of shows have always been a bit complicated for me because at their core they are essentially pro-police propaganda, aka “copaganda”. The United States is the premier purveyor for this type of programming. Seriously, the entire Law & Order franchise, Chicago PD, COPS, etc. are all shows that try to wash away the sins and corruption of the police force by trying to show how a few good cops are really just trying to get justice for people. Of course, we should ignore the massive amount of basic rights violations, corruption, and unethical and illegal actions taken to get that supposed “justice” done by police. However, one of the major facets of The Good Detective is showing how flawed, biased, and corrupt the police force is. In both seasons, some of the major antagonists are corrupt detectives and members of the police force who commit crimes for money and power even at the cost of innocent civilians’ lives and freedom. Even the members of Division 2 are not immune to this as some of the members also take small bribes or cheats to get just a little ahead.

An engaging cast of characters.

The difference between this series and other shows is that the corrupt police actually suffer consequences, and we also see how the police enable, and are enabled by, the corrupt politicians and corporations. There is an obvious symbiotic relationship between these different factions of society. There is also apparent anger and frustration by the members of Division 2 and the civilians affected by these factions that is not dismissed or made foolish, but is actually justified and celebrated for its importance and significance. There is a scene in Season 1 where the corrupt police chief is given a second chance but only after he apologizes and grovels for forgiveness at the feet of someone he unintentionally victimized. This scene isn’t meant to fully absolve the chief nor does the victim offer a full pardon. It, instead, highlights how the chief’s seemingly innocuous actions of taking a little off the top led to bigger crimes and more victims. Now, the chief doesn’t make a full 180 as he is still interested in promotions and moving up the hierarchal ladder. The change is simply he is no longer willing to turn the other way nor cause harm to do so.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but after years of seeing the exact opposite and worst of police propaganda celebrated on American television, a series that demonstrates the immense and willing fallibility of the police force along with actual consequences and prison time for those that choose corruption is a welcome breath of fresh air. The series also highlights how journalists and journalism can be used to protect and push certain agendas alongside the police, politics, and corporations. In short, while the series ultimately has heroes, it actually demonstrates how easily corrupted and, for lack of a better term, evil these social institutions can become when unchecked or unabated. Again, a refreshing take.

Of course, beneath all that, The Good Detective has interesting central mysteries that do require attention being paid to understand all the twists and turns and ultimate resolutions. The solutions never feel cheap or unearned as there is a logical progression and response to the situations presented unlike a lot of mystery shows where the final reveal was essentially unknowable without having been in the writers’ room. The cast has obvious chemistry with one another and the characters all have distinct personalities from their backstories to even just their dialogue. You could easily pick out which character is speaking with eyes closed just from hearing the dialogue on screen. An impressive feat for having only 32 episodes across two seasons.

All in all, I would highly recommend The Good Detective over pretty much any American police procedurals for a more honest, enjoyable, and critical look at the genre. And as a great director has stated (paraphrased, of course) just learn to read a few lines and you will enjoy a whole new world of entertainment and media.

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