TV Review: Watcher (Spoilers!)

In this complicated world, sometimes its easier to watch things that are black and white, where your bad guys are deliciously evil and where the good guys strive to do the right thing no matter how many hits they may take. These tropes help us renew our own faith in humanity, and maybe, even in ourselves. However, life isn’t just black and white, and sometimes, we need characters that are complex and gray to remind us of this. OCN’s “Watcher” is just this as it focuses on a special police unit that investigates corrupt officers. Not only does it boast an interesting premise and storyline, but interesting and complex characters and performances, and keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable as it forces you to think of a question that has plagued humanity since ancient Roman times- “Who watches the watchers?”

This drama aired for sixteen episodes on Saturdays and Sundays from July 6 to August 25, 2019 on OCN. It was directed by Ahn Gil Ho (“Memories of the Alhambra“, “Stranger“, “Rooftop Prince”), and was written by Han Sang Woon (“The Good Wife”, “Spy”).

Image Source: OCN Facebook Page

“Watcher” follows the Corruption Investigation Team of Seyang Police Station, a team despised by the entire police force, as they conduct investigations against corrupt police officers. The team included Jo Soo Yeon (Park Joo Hee), who used to work with forensics; Kim Young Goon (Seo Kang Joon), an officer who used to work in traffic enforcement, and whose father, Kim Jae Myung (Ahn Kil Kang), was imprisoned fifteen years ago under the accusation of murdering his wife; Do Chi Gwang (Han Suk Kyu), Jae Myung’s an officer who used to be under Jae Myung and was directly involved in his case fifteen years ago, and is now the team leader of the Corruption Investigation Team; and Han Tae Joo (Kim Hyun Joo), a former prosecutor who was in charge of the Kim Jae Myung case fifteen years ago, and whose life changed after a traumatic incident occurred to her seven years ago. In the end, their investigations help them ultimately get to the bottom of the truth about a case that happened fifteen years ago.

During the entire course of watching this show, I kept on wondering why I was feeling uncomfortable about things, almost as if something was just a little bit off until the very end. However, after watching the show, I realized that this feeling was something that was deliberately yet subtly there all throughout as it makes you think about the show’s title and the quote it came from- “Watcher, who watches the watcher?”- that is also flashed after the final scene of the drama.

No spoilers yet, but given that this show does focus on a team that investigates their very own, it makes you think about who is watching and making sure that they also don’t abuse their power and authority as well. Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about accountability, whether it be on a big or small scale, but at the same time, this drama made me wonder exactly WHO watches and makes sure that the ones doing the watching are doing things right, especially when it comes to a more national or international level. On a smaller scale, personally speaking, when we create goals and plans, sometimes we have our friends help us out as “accountability partners” or “gym buddies”, to keep us in check, but they too also need others to help them, too.  Governments can be held in check by international laws and codes, and the public can keep things in check by voicing their opinions, but who keeps those in check, especially nowadays where there are not a lot of boundaries anymore thanks to the internet? It’s these kinds of questions that reminded me that those questions are actually real, and it did make me feel a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t really have one concrete and clear answer for that, and the final shot and that quote flashed on the screen really drove that point home.

I was a little bit worried about the direction, as Ahn Gil Ho has had one miss and one strike with me. I loved his direction in “Stranger/Forest of Secrets”, but I didn’t enjoy it that much in “Memories of the Alhambra“. However, I think that the miss with him in “Alhambra” also had to do with that drama’s writer, as I did like the direction and the way the story was told here. I also did like the pacing and writing of this drama’s writer, Han Sang Woon. There were moments in which it telegraphed loud and clear who the mastermind of everything was, but it also did a good job in making me doubt what I was sure of as well. It also wasn’t a perfect show and there were some minor pacing issues, but nothing big enough to make me actually complain about it


Seo Kang Joon as Kim Young Goon
Image Source: OCN

Seo Kang Joon is an actor that I have had my eye on since last year when I discovered him in one of my favorite almost guilty pleasure dramas of last year, “Are You Human?“. Here, I thought he was able to deliver a great and complex performance in giving life to the character of Kim Young Goon, not only physically, but you could see it in his eyes as well. I haven’t seen him yet in last year’s “The Third Charm”, but I’m looking forward to watching that, and am also anticipating the upcoming drama that he’ll be having in 2020 with Park Min Young. He is also steadily becoming one of my favorite new actors on my list, especially as I haven’t been disappointed in his performances yet.

Kim Hyun Joo as Lawyer Han Tae Joo
Image Source: OCN

This was the first time I’ve ever encountered Kim Hyun Joo and Han Suk Kyu in a drama, and I cannot believe I haven’t really seen anything with these two before. Both of them played very complex, gray, and guarded characters to the point that there a lot of moments in which I didn’t really know what to make of them. However, Han Suk Kyu stood out to me more, especially in the moments when his character was shaken to the core, yet he had to find a way to mask that sometimes quite quickly.

Han Suk Kyu as Do Chi Gwang
Image Source: OCN

The story itself was good, and I like how, while it satisfactorily concluded the major story and plot points, that it was a bit open ended, and drove the main point of the drama home.

If you are someone like me, who absolutely loves OCN, crime dramas and thrillers, then “Watcher” will be a refreshing cup of tea with its strong performances, complex characters, and will definitely make you feel a little bit uncomfortable with the question and message it poses at its core- who watches the watchers? Who makes sure that the watchers are also held accountable for their actions?

Now, from here on out, you know the drill, there will be spoilers!

The story itself of the drama is pretty straightforward, the Corruption Investigation Team investigates cases that deal with police officers who they think are corrupt, and at the same time, majority of the team members also have their own agenda as well that runs alongside that cause. Han Tae Joo joins as it will help her find who broke into her house seven years ago and who cut off her and her ex-husband’s thumbs; Do Chi Gwang started doing it even before the drama started because of what happened with Kim Jae Myung, and as an attempt as well to atone for his own past wrong doings; and Young Goon joined because it would also help him get closure regarding his father’s, Kim Jae Myung’s, case and his own past.  In the end, they were able to expose a secret group operating with the police called the Jang Society. It was originally started by Jae Myung with the intent of being a watchdog organization within the police to be able to make sure that criminals do get the right punishment they deserve, but like most watchdog organizations that meant well in the beginning, it became a different beast overnight.. Under the leadership of Park Jin Woo, it became more of a vigilante group that resorted to murder, that controlled and managed gangs and benefited from it and covered up the crimes of its own members. What’s scarier is that the way it is set up makes it a bit easy for someone else to take over and give out instructions, which means that the team still has its work cut out for them.

The Corruption Investigation Team (L-R) Park Joo Hee as Officer Jo Soo Yeon, Kim Hyun Joo as Lawyer Han Tae Joo, Han Suk Kyu as Do Chi Gwang and Seo Kang Joon as Kim Young Goon
Image Source: OCN

As for a possible second season, while I do like how the drama ended, I would like to see Park Hoon’s Yoon Ji Hoon be brought to justice, and whether or not Chi Gwang will end up crossing a line he’ll never be able to come back from, and based on that, what Young Goon would do. Of course, I see it as them still going after the remnants of Jang Society, but I’d like the focus to just be on that. As long as the same director, writer, and cast are on board, I think I would watch a second season of this drama.

Seo Kang Joon as Young Goon
Image Source: OCN

As mentioned earlier, I thought that Seo Kang Joon showed a lot of growth in his acting, especially as this role was quite demanding both physically and emotionally. Young Goon is a character that decided to bottle up his emotions and translated most of it to seem either indifferent or angry, which was shown in the stiffness and tension that was present in the character ever since the moment the drama started. However, he is pretty straightforward and single minded in his focus of getting to the bottom of things and getting to the truth of the matter. I also like how he allowed himself to be a bit emotionally vulnerable, like when he allowed himself to say that he was worried that he had actually caused his father to be falsely imprisoned, and how he accepts help when Tae Joo and Soo Yeon show up at his house to make sure that he eats or something as simple as helping him change the bandage on his hand. At the end of the drama, Young Goon was able to get the closure that he needed; but at the same time, instead of looking now at Chi Gwang as his mentor, he will be watching him closely to make sure that Chi Gwang doesn’t cross that line, and at the same time, I think Young Goon is the type that would take action if he does. That ending shot, with that look that he had towards Chi Gwang was emotional and amazing at the same time.

Young Goon watching Chi Gwang.
Image Source: OCN
Young Goon and Chi Gwang solving cases together.
Image Source: OCN

At the very beginning, Chi Gwang said that he wasn’t a righteous man, he only does what he thinks is right, and it shows. Because he thought Jae Myung killed his own wife, he allowed himself to manipulate evidence; because he knew that Jin Woo knew things about Jang Society, he allowed him to be in pain until he talked; and because he knew that cutting a deal with Director Yeom (Kim Soo Jin) would allow him to get the rest of Jang Society, he allowed himself to overlook the fact that she ordered Jin Woo’s murder. While he does things for the good, he lets himself cross the line when he deems it necessary, and that’s what Young Goon will try to keep in check moving forward.

“Who Watches the Watcher?” Yong Goon and Chi Gwang
Image Source: OCN

Tae Joo first joined the team in order to get revenge against the one who cut her and her ex-husband’s fingers. I also couldn’t understand what to make of her character as she was willing to also cross that line if need be so that she would be able to finally get to the bottom of things. However, seeing her ex-husband react to things in such a crazy and unhinged way allowed her to look at things better and made her realize that what was now important wasn’t revenge anymore, but to hold those people responsible for it accountable, which allowed her to return as a prosecutor. I also like the fact the she will be keeping Young Goon, and in a way, Chi Gwang in check, and I think that everyone’s favorite former loan shark turned secretary and body guardd Jae Sik (Jang Do Won), will keep her in check in turn.

Kim Hyun Joo as Han Tae Joo
Image Source: OCN

As for Jang Society, I do get that it was started for a good reason, but in the end, it wasn’t kept in check, which was why it turned out to be the monster it ultimately became. I also felt bad for those like Jang Hae Ryong (Heo Sung Tae), that ended up becoming pawns of the organization, fueled by the wrong desire for justice and revenge, which ended up becoming their downfalls in the end. And while its so easy to say that we should trust in the system instead of creating organizations like this, it is also hard to do that when that same system can become corrupt and can be very unreliable. Thus, just like at the end of the show, you end up trying to do what is right, but you also need someone to always keep you in check, just in case.

“Watcher” was an interesting show that subtly gets to you as it poses that subtle question of who watches the watcher, and leaves you with a haunting uncomfortable feeling that is very much real and relatable as we do see and encounter this type of thing in real life.

Have you seen “Watcher”? What did you think of it? And also, who do you think “watches the watcher”, especially when it comes to bigger national and international organizations? Who do you think should keep them in check? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: OCN

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