Ten minutes until the statute of limitations in the case of Yoon Jung runs out, culprit Yoon Soo Ah sits in an interrogation room while the victim’s mother prays in the hallway outside. The detectives are in a state, and even contemplating putting the fix in, but police lieutenant, Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) tells them they only need three to five minutes to get the culprit to confess.
Detective Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo) borrows a pair of glasses from a colleague and walks into the interrogation room. Soo Ah is not only calm, but amused at the police’s efforts to catch her at the 11th hour. But, Soo Hyun gets her to admit that the contents of the locker she showed them were hers, thus confirming her DNA, and Soo Ah begins to feel defensive. Soo Hyun goes on the attack, telling her that the culprit’s DNA was also on the glasses found next to the second victim, Seo Hyung Joon’s body. Soo Ah recovers quickly, though, and tells her she didn’t do it. Unable to stand it anymore, Hae Young runs into the interrogation room and pretends that they have the DNA results, but in the end Soo Ah stands firm and the statute of limitations runs out.
Both Soo Hyun and Hae Young are stricken, while an amused Soo Ah asks to leave. As she walks out the door, past Yoon Jung’s mother, the DNA results come in and it’s confirmed that she’s the culprit. The detectives are watching her walk away, when a new piece of evidence arrives: the parking ticket for Sunil Psychiatric Hospital, that pushes Seo Hyung Joon’s death to a later time. Soo Hyun arrests Soo Ah, but their triumph is cut short as Yoon Jung’s heartbroken mother realizes that Soo Ah won’t be paying for the death of her daughter and breaks down.
The next day, Hae Young leaves a flower at the school he went to with Yoon Jung, then goes in to a forest to look at a plaque on a tree to Park Sun Woo, Hae Young’s older brother. In a flashback, we see Sun Woo being taken to prison, as a young Hae Young cries and calls out his name.
In the news, there’s a debate about the statue of limitations, as more and more people cry out for a cold case squad to be created to reinvestigate old crimes. Police superintendent, Kim Bum Joo (Jang Hyun Sung) is bombarded by media and victims’ groups as he goes to work, asking if they’ll reopen the Gyeonggi Nambu murder cases. Finally, the debate is resolved as the statute of limitations for major crimes is removed and old cases can now be prosecuted (fun fact: Korea did, in fact, remove the statute of limitations on major crimes in July 2015).
Bum Joo makes the decision to create a cold case squad, and he assigns to it everyone who disobeyed him in the Yoon Jung investigation as punishment, including Ahn Chi Soo (Jung Hae Kyun), Soo Hyun, and her partner, Kim Gye Chul (Kim Won Hae). Bum Joo warns Chi Soo that the cold cases are an embarrassment to the police, so he should sit on them quietly, like he did in the case of Detective Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong).
In the meantime, Soo Hyun goes to see Soo Ah in jail to ask if Jae Han had ever gone to see her, but Soo Ah is uninterested and uncooperative. Later, as she’s packing her belongings at the office, Soo Hyun opens the back of the Batman picture on her desk and reveals a photo of herself and Jae Han. We flash back to 15 years ago, when the picture was taken. Soo Hyun and Jae Han were roped into a photo shoot for the police magazine, and overcome their awkwardness by shooting evil looks at the guy who roped them into it. In the background, the time ticks by to 11:23.
Back at home, Hae Young is on the phone with the reporter from the last episode, who thanks him for his information on Lee Bo Young and Ji Sung, but Hae Young has decided to retire from the celebrity gossip business. As he puts away his information, in the background, the radio set that started this whole thing goes off again. Hae Young happily picks up the radio, and tells Jae Han that they caught Yoon Jung’s murderer. In the past, Jae Han is in a forest, covered in blood, and tells Hae Young that this will likely be his last transmission. He tells Hae Young that he’ll hear from him again, but it will be the younger Jae Han of 1989, and that Hae Young will have to convince him of who he is. Jae Han tells him not to give up, that the past can be changed, but the transmission cuts off with the sound of a gunshot.
Gye Chul, and another cold case squad member, Jung Hun Gi (Lee Yoo Joon) are greeted with contempt by the other detectives at their new office, which turns out to be the messiest corner of a police station. The only help they get is from a rookie, Hwang Eui Kyung (Kim Min Gyu), and Hun Gi proceeds to hit on him. As they attempt to clean their new office, Soo Hyun arrives, followed shortly by Chi Soo, who gives them their first assignment: the Gyeonggi Nambu serial murders, the most famous cold case in Korea. Yikes.
We flash back to December 3rd, 1987, as a woman is murdered on a rural road, shortly after getting off the bus. Chi Soo details the case, where 11 women were murdered in similar circumstances, strangled with their hands and feet tied behind their backs. The only common factor was the rain, and the fact that the women wore red. Despite the thousands of police officers on the case, no one was ever caught.
Soo Hyun is understandably annoyed at being handed the case, with so little resources, and her anger only grows with the arrival of Hae Young, who has been assigned as their profiler. She coldly ignores his friendly overtures, and tells Chi Soo that she wants someone good instead. Chi Soo tells them to get on with it or hand in their badges, then leaves.
Hae Young doesn’t know why everyone is so angry, and when Gye Chul talks down to him, he points out that he outranks him. A barely chastened Gye Chul explains that there’s no physical evidence left, but Hae Young is uninterested in Gye Chul’s thoughts, since he’s a new kind of cop and he’s confident that he can solve the case. Soo Hyun rolls her eyes as the conversation devolves into a physical fight.
Hae Young is less confident later on, as he goes through the case files, to find that the investigation is more of a mess than he suspected previously. He puts the files away to look again at narrowing down the identity of the Lee Jae Han he spoke to via the radio. He settles on the employee file of Jae Han, who was discharged in 2001.
Meanwhile, Soo Hyun goes to visit Jae Han’s father, a watch repairman, to get her watch repaired. When he hands her back the watch, he tells her gently that it’s been 15 years and that she can stop visiting him. Instead of responding, she asks about the Gyeonggi Nambu case, Jae Han’s first case as a police officer. Jae Han’s father tells her that Jae Han believed that even if he didn’t manage to catch the guy, someone out there would do it for him.
Back at the office, it’s 11:23 and Hae Young is startled to hear the sound of the radio going off. In the past, Jae Han is a young police officer, combing the woods with a search party, and when Hae Young uses the radio to talk to him, he picks up. The conversation goes at cross-purposes as Hae Young tries to figure out if Jae Han is okay, and Jae Han can’t figure out who the hell he is. Thinking that he’s reporting a superior officer, Jae Han tells him that they’re searching for Lee Gye Sook near Ohsung Mountain. With the file right next to him, Hae Young wonders why they would be looking there, when everyone knows she was found in a field of reeds next to Highway 3.
Hae Young proceeds to enumerate where the next one was found, but he’s cut off when the victim is found and Jae Han goes running, exactly to where Hae Young said. In the present, Hae Young looks at the time and realizes that it’s 11:23 again, same as last time, while in the past, Jae Han wonders how the mystery person on the radio knew where the body was. Jae Han must be in a crowd of rookies, as the crime scene is comprehensively trampled by nauseous police officers (don’t they watch “CSI”?). A sign in the background indicates that it’s 1989.
The next morning, Hae Young is using the whiteboard to write out a summary of the Gyeonggi Nambu murders when the other detectives come in. When everyone arrives, Soo Hyun gives them all a pep talk, reminding them that no one will welcome them, since their job is point out where other police officers went wrong. Soo Hyun splits up the tasks, sending Gye Chul to get files from the detectives who were handling the case, and Hun Gi to process whatever evidence they find. She orders them to give all the files to Hae Young when they’re done.
On her way out, Soo Hyun hands a package to a suspicious Hae Young, but it turns out to be photos from the crime scene of the seventh and eighth murders that her sunbae had given her. As Hae Young goes through the photos, we go back to November 5, 1989, when a woman walking next to the train tracks in a rural area is followed silently by a mysterious man. When the woman gets home, the man hides, but inside, it’s clear that both the woman and her mother know that she’s being followed by a cop, who turns out to be Jae Han. The mother wonders why Jae Han can’t just tell the woman he likes her instead of trying to keep her safe from a distance. When the woman’s mother catches Jae Han outside the gate, he pretends that his friend used to live in the house and runs away, much to her amusement.
Jae Han ends up in a train station, where he’s reminded of Hae Young’s words over the radio, that the eighth victim was found on the train tracks near Hanpoong Station. Back at the police station, an elderly couple is looking through piles of VHS tapes with pictures of young men from the neighbourhood to identify the one they saw in the dark. The couple has 320 more videos to go through, and it’s clear that they won’t find anything, but a detective forces them to carry on.
This futile effort is interrupted by the arrival of Jae Han, who is there to ask whether a Park Hae Young works in their police station. The detective has obviously never heard of him, and when Jae Han explains that he’s looking for him because he mentioned the location of the eighth murder, the detective loses his temper and throws him out.
Meanwhile, a woman walks next to the train tracks, followed closely by a man who isn’t Jae Han, because Jae Han is back at the station. Jae Han wonders if he was imagining the whole thing, then takes his flashlight to walk along the train tracks. In the present, Hae Young is looking at the photo of the eighth murder when the picture starts changing. Back in the past, Jae Han comes across a bound and gagged woman by the side of the tracks, but is startled to discover that the woman is still alive. In the present, as the photo continues to change, Hae Young jumps up to look at the board behind him, to discover that the eighth murder is now an attempt. The same thing happens in Soo Hyun’s notebook, but she doesn’t notice.
I was so absorbed by recapping this episode that I actually left off having my breakfast until my significant other literally forced me to go eat something. This is serious business: no self-respecting noona leaves a good meal behind. Even then, I had to stop in the brief intermission between the Yoon Jung story and the start of the Gyeonggi Nambu murder case, because I couldn’t bear to leave that part half-finished.
Lee Je Hoon’s toned down a bit in this episode, so I have less to nitpick over and more to enjoy. Again, it was tautly written, and imminently watchable, if a little slower than the last. But, the extra time was used wisely, to set up the cold case squad and to create the initial connection between Hae Young and Jae Han. We learned a little bit about what drives our main characters, with Soo Hyun’s love for the missing Jae Han, and the case of Hae Young’s brother. I love how all the information isn’t dumped in our laps in one go, but that it slowly builds up. I’m looking forward to what our main characters are going to do, as they discover that they now have the ability to affect the past.
I don’t have much else to say, except I can’t wait for next week.
On a side note: seeing Jo Jin Woong in a police uniform reminded me again that he was the evil cop in A Hard Day. As much as I enjoyed that movie, here’s hoping he finds a different way of dealing with lazy, corrupt cops in “Signal”.