Signal episode 1 recap

Side dish: If you, like Hae Young, eat a lot of cup noodles, why not consider making your own? Here’s a recipe for cup noodles from Serious Eats.

Episode Recap


In the year 2000, Park Hae Young is a friendless outcast in primary school. The only person who is nice to him is his classmate, Kim Yoon Jung, whose friendly overtures he repeatedly rejects. One day after school, he sees a woman in red shoes take Yoon Jung away, then discovers the next day that she’s been kidnapped. When the culprit is assumed to be a male university student, Hae Young tries and fails to pass on the information that he saw a woman take Yoon Jung away, and Yoon Jung is never found. Her mother takes up residency outside the police station, holding up a sign with Yoon Jung’s picture.


We fast-forward to the present, through Hae Young’s troubled teens, to three days from the date when the statute of limitations on Yoon Jung’s murder ends. Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) is in a café, expounding to a reporter on how he used psychology to figure out where Im Si Wan and Kang So Ra were going to meet for their illicit date, away from the third member of their love triangle, Byun Yo Han (“Misaeng” reference! Cute!). Just as Hae Young is about to point out the location of the next illicit couple meetup between Ji Sung and Lee Bo Young, they’re interrupted by the arrival of policewoman, Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo), who flashes her badge and accuses Hae Young of digging through their garbage.


At the police station, Soo Hyun and her partner, Gye Chul (Kim Won Jae), are appalled to discover that Hae Young is a police lieutenant. They inform him that Lee Bo Young has reported him for stalking. Hae Young takes the high road, pointing out that he’s only using his investigative skills for fun. He turns the microscope on Soo Hyun and Gye Chul, and easily figures out that Gye Chul took a request from Lee Bo Young’s manager to investigate, despite being in the Violent Crimes Unit. When Soo Hyun gets a call to drop the case, Hae Young goes on the offensive, but immediately retreats when Soo Hyun shuts him down. She calls him back in the hallway, but only to point out that he should find another line of work.

On his way to the elevator, Hae Young suddenly realizes he’s in the same police station where he tried to report that Yoon Jung was abducted by a woman. The scene switches to August 3rd, 2000, right after Yoon Jung’s abduction. Hae Young looks distraught and in the process of running out of the building, bumps into detective, Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong), dropping a piece of paper. Jae Han picks up the paper without realizing it, and goes to his squad room to brief everyone on the suspect in Yoon Jung’s disappearance, Seo Hyung Joon. The suspect’s cell phone and credit cards have all been revoked, and so he’s difficult to track. The chief of the section, Kim Bum Joo (Jang Hyun Sung) is unimpressed with the lack of progress, but Jae Han has one clue, that the suspect had become involved with a woman recently.


The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of detective Ahn Chi Soo (Jung Hae Kyun), who announces that another blackmail letter has arrived. When the other detectives rush out to the ransom location, Jae Han tells Bum Joo that he believes that the last blackmail letter was a red herring, even though they found the suspect’s thumbprint at the ransom location; they should look into the the suspect’s mystery girlfriend instead. Bum Joo is unimpressed again, and tells Jae Han to look into it by himself. Jae Han rejects Chi Soo’s advice to drop it as well, but his angry self-reflection is interrupted by the arrival of Soo Hyun (the year 2000 version). She has just transferred to this unit, but before she can say anything, he tells her that after he wraps up the case, he’ll respond to what she asked him before, and leaves the room.

She smiles after him, but back in the present, she’s not smiling anymore, as Gye Chul tries to explain himself and she tries to clean the files off her desk.

Back in the year 2000, Hae Young returns to the police station to retrieve the letter he dropped. When Jae Han comes out the front door, Hae Young hides, but Jae Han only goes to his car. Jae Han gets in and finally reads Hae Young’s letter claiming that the culprit is not a man, but a woman. As Jae Han drives away, the scene switches back to the present, and 2015 Hae Young comes out of the police station, only to discover that his car is blocked by a truck. In the past, Jae Han drives to a location where the suspect had used his credit card, and marks it off on a map. Next, he drives to Sunil Psychiatric Hospital, which turns out to be closed. When Jae Han goes around to the back of the building, he finds the suspect’s corpse hanging from a manhole. He takes out his radio to report the incident, but when he speaks, it’s Hae Young, in the present, who can hear him.


Unable to pinpoint where the sound is coming from, Hae Young goes around to the back of the truck to find bags of waste. When Jae Han mentions his name, Lieutenant Park, and Yoon Jung’s case, Hae Young frantically searches through the bags until he finds an old radio. Hae Young hears Jae Han’s voice tell him that the suspect has his thumb cut off, and that he can’t be the culprit. When Hae Young starts asking him what happened, Jae Han is unable to answer because he’s just been hit on the head from behind. With the radio now silent, Hae Young snaps himself out of it, by slapping himself, and leaves. As he drives away, he sees Yoon Jung’s mother standing outside the police station, and flashes back to the day Yoon Jung disappeared.

Hae Young drives to his own police station, where he asks one of his colleagues to look at the radio. When the colleague points out that the radio has no batteries in it, Hae Young chalks up the incident to overwork and puts the radio away. But, unable to let it go, Hae Young finds himself at the Sunil Psychiatric Hospital, and eventually finds the manhole, but no one hanging in it. He curses himself for wasting time and is about to leave, when he spots another manhole. Hae Young reluctantly goes to check it out and finds both the noose, and a skeleton on the ground.


We skip forward to a forensic team putting the skeleton together, with Soo Hyun overseeing. Hae Young waits outside the police tape, jumpy, until Soo Hyun approaches to ask how he found the skeleton. Hae Young can’t explain himself, but instead he asks Soo Hyun to compare the DNA with that of the suspect from the Kim Yoon Jung case. At the medical examiner’s office, Soo Hyun discovers that the skeleton belongs to a male in his early 20s, where the thumb was forcibly cut off.

Out in the hall, Hae Young is on the phone with his colleague, who assures him that there is no active-duty Lee Jae Han in the police force who knows anything about the Kim Yoon Jung case. As he hangs up, Soo Hyun grabs Hae Young and bodily throws him into a room, to find out how he knew the corpse belonged to the suspect. Shocked, Hae Young squirms out of her hold, but before he can say anything, Chi Soo bursts into the room and demands that Soo Hyun hand over all the evidence to him. They argue, but Soo Hyun hands over the file and leaves the room, with a confused Hae Young standing by.

Chi Soo takes the file and goes straight to Bum Joo, now a police superintendent. Chi Soo points out that Jae Han had been right, that the suspect’s thumb was missing, but Bum Joo laughs it off. When Chi Soo presses the point, Bum Joo angrily asks if Chi Soo will take responsibility for Jae Han’s case as well, then settles on the easy explanation of suicide for the dead suspect.


Back at the police station, Soo Hyun walks out of her office and straight into Hae Young, who, in an effort to get her to listen to him, confesses that he saw the abduction of Yoon Jung, and that he knows the culprit was a woman. When she asks why he didn’t tell anyone, Hae Young tells her that he tried repeatedly over the years to tell someone at the police station, but no one ever listened to him. After a while he realized that the police would be embarrassed by the discovery that they had the wrong suspect, and so they buried the story. Hae Young asks Soo Hyun if she’s going to pretend not to hear him like the other police officers. Soo Hyun walks away, swearing that she’ll catch the true culprit, but without his help.

Outside the police station, Bum Joo walks out into a throng of reporters, but ignores them and walks over to Yoon Jung’s mother. When she asks him if the culprit has been found, he hands her the file and tells her that the suspect had committed suicide from the pressure of his guilt. Yoon Jung’s mother breaks down crying, as cameras go off around her.


Meanwhile, Soo Hyun walks out of the police station into the same throng of reporters. She refuses to comment on the case, but when a reporter asks if it was really suicide, Hae Young bursts out of the door, and announces to the reporters that the suspect was murdered. He tells them that both Yoon Jung and the suspect were killed by a nurse at Sunil Psychiatric Hospital, a woman in her 30s, 165cm tall. Finally, Soo Hyun shuts him up by shoving him back in the building.

In an unnamed psychiatric hospital, a nurse also sees the same news footage and comes to a halt. One of her colleagues asks her if she heard the news about Sunil Psychiatric Hospital.

Back at the police station, Chi Soo comes storming in to confront Soo Hyun and Hae Young. Soo Hyun takes responsibility for Hae Young’s outburst, but Chi Soo is taken aback when Hae Young puts together a theory of the case from what he observed about the woman who kidnapped Yoon Jung. Hae Young describes how both the suspect and Yoon Jung were killed by the nurse at Sunil Psychiatric Hospital.

As the nurse (Nurse Kang) leaves the hospital where she works, her colleagues wonder about where she is. When one of them points out that Nurse Kang is from Sunil Psychiatric Hospital, the other shuts her down, but looks over at the phone.

Chi Soo is still unconvinced about their prospects of tracking down the right nurse in time, but Hae Young points out that thanks to his outburst on TV describing the culprit, someone will probably turn her in. Hae Young tells them that they’ll have to wait at least an hour for whoever it is to get over their initial disbelief, and then to call. And, as if on cue, Gye Chul’s phone rings.


Soo Hyun begs for permission to investigate the tips, and she promises to take responsibility if anything goes wrong. Chi Soo points out that she’s not high up enough to take responsibility, but allows them to investigate in the little time they have left.

It’s a wild goose chase as the detectives track down all the leads, only to have them end up as dead ends. Finally, Nurse Kang’s co-worker takes the leap and calls the police. When two detectives go to investigate, they find her locker has a pair of red shoes in it, and a calendar with the date of the statute of limitations marked. The detectives frantically chase her down as Soo Hyun and Hae Young race back to the police station. When they arrive, they’re immediately confronted by Yoon Jung’s distraught mother, who just wants to know what’s going on.

But, it turns out that they’ve caught the suspect and she’s in the interrogation room. As Soo Hyun walks in, Chi Soo tells her they have an hour and a half left to get a confession out of her for prosecution, and leaves her to it.


In the interrogation room, Soo Hyun gets nowhere with Nurse Kang. Out in the hallway, Hae Young flashes back to the shoes in Nurse Kang’s locker, and goes running into the interview to look at Nurse Kang’s shoes. Hae Young is now convinced that Nurse Kang is not the culprit, and Nurse Kang also protests her innocence, saying that Nurse Yoon told her to take the day off. Both Hae Young and Soo Hyun suddenly clue in that Nurse Yoon is the person who turned in Nurse Kang in the first place.

Hae Young explains that he was mistaken in thinking that the culprit would run away, that instead she waited until the last minute to waste the police’s time on Nurse Kang. But, he’s convinced that she’s close by and watching to see the effects of her manipulation. The detective team goes into action, and Soo Hyun requests that Nurse Yoon’s license plate be tracked by CCTV. Hae Young, meanwhile, chases her down in the nearby streets, and finally catches up with her, only to find Nurse Yoon already face to face with Soo Hyun. He runs up to the two of them, with only 20 minutes left until the statute of limitations runs out.



Before I get into it, I’m first going to apologize for the length of this recap. Unlike, say a romantic comedy, it’s pretty hard in a crime thriller like this to know what’s important and what I can leave out, so you’ll have to bear with me.

I only have a couple of quibbles, so I’ll start with those and get them off my chest quickly. First, there were a few too many flashbacks to scenes that had just passed. Not that many, but enough that it bothered me. Second, having heard recently what a great actor Lee Je Hoon is, I was a little surprised to find him to be the weak link. I got whiplash from following his nearly instantaneous transition from genius goofball to stormy crusader and back. While his goofier persona seemed to belong to a different drama entirely, his crusader persona quickly became grating thanks to the fact that he was constantly speaking at an urgent, high volume. It’s possible to be serious without sounding like you’re hyperventilating, yes?

Quibbling over, I really enjoyed this episode. Given the number of characters and the fact that we’re following some of them in both the past and present, you’d expect some level of confusion, but I was able to keep up with what was going on without a ton of expository dialogue to catch me up. Also, I like that the show has adopted a completely different visual style from the past to the present to keep things straight. Given that this is the director of “Misaeng”, my expectations are pretty high, so here’s hoping they can keep it up.

Signal (시그널)


 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 || series review


  1. I’m so glad I find your blog. Thanks so much for the recap and especially the great cup noodle idea. I’ll follow you from now on


  2. I am just watching this drama in 2019. Thanks for your review as I can come to this review to read up on things I have missed while watching the drama.


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