There are juz too many things I love about Signal, and it’s not juz the plot that is engaging, which continues to surprise me weekly. Signal has given nothing for me to complain so far — other than I need to peer into darkness nearly every ep. But well, that is the trait of most noir detective stories — the grimness of the narrative is reflected in the atmospheric lighting (or lack thereof).
Besides the twist-and-turns which Signal offers, together with the mind-boggling time-space theorem and whether the past upsets the present (or vice versa), the characters that people the narrative muz also be given credit. Unlike some other police procedurals such as Hidden Identity which are more plot-centered than character driven, Signal does a fine job balancing the two. The leads — Jae-han, Hae-young and Soo-hyun — they play a part in driving the narrative (all the cases thus far centre around them), but they are also interesting on their own. We get full eps sometimes into their personal lives, especially that of Jae-han and Soo-hyun, since the two have the benefit of existing both in the past and present narratives.
We are introduced first to Jae-han as the seasoned detective, then we “walked back” to when he first started out as a rookie cop in the Gyeonggi-nam do murders. (and heh, he wasn’t any less green behind the ears as Soo-hyun in her early days) The tragic crush he had on the govt clerk who later became Gyeonggi-nam do’s last murder victim serves to soften the sharp and hard edge he develops as he becomes a seasoned cop. We know that beneath that foul mouth, hot tempered Jae-han of later years is a silly romantic who doesn’t know how to profess his love other than stalk her home daily. (and who gives a Taser as a romantic gift anyway? but turns out that Taser came in real useful later) But one constant trait in Jae-han is his refusal to be cowed by power and authority. Doesn’t matter if he is issuing a parking ticket or arresting a murderer — if a high and mighty fella did something wrong, he did something wrong.
And of cos Soo-hyun. Omg…I LOVE how Kim Hye-soo manages to portray the doe-eyed innocent maknae who is inexperienced but earnest and later on matures into a no-nonsense, badass Alpha female who commands respect from her men and superiors. And it’s not juz the makeup and long hair that “transforms” the old to current Soo-hyun. Young Soo-hyun manages to channel a certain helplessness and “trying-too-hard” vibe, with her utter uselessness in the daily ops of the police team. Though maybe not entirely her fault. As a (pretty) female officer in a then-male dominated and assumed male-superior environment, she is likely to be “naturally” belittled or coddled by her sunbaes. And her sometimes shy and too eager-to-help attitudes do not help. Like how she earnestly tries to master driving, only to nearly drive Jae-han mad with her lack of psycho-motor skills.
But the Soo-hyun today is a 180 deg change from that pony tailed rookie then. She doesn’t say much but prefers now to silently watch and assess people from the background. Like how she listens to the verbal garbage from Hae-young in ep1 when he counters that he isn’t stalking/ selling info about a K-star to tabloids, but juz merely “sorting” through somebody’s trash. Although Jae-han’s encouragement in ep10 may be the catalyst in helping her crawl out of her PTSD, I believe Soo-hyun’s position today is also a slow buildup of her own efforts. Much like Jae-han. She is still as rash as she was in the 90s, but she possesses an uncanny instinct for crime solving together with a doggedness that allows her to try again and again, despite repeated failures. I don’t think it’s luck that she caught the motorbike + helmet clad robber, but it came from constantly staring at the grainy vids and photos she copied (?) from Jae-han and these somehow fed into her subconscious.
Although Hae-young also crosses 2 timelines in Signal, we don’t really get his complete backstory — cos he was only a child in the earlier timeline. Yes, we know his hyung got convicted for a gang rape case, and later committed suicide out of guilt (?) or social pressure (?), and young Hae-young is so emotionally affected by the traumatic episode that he became withdrawn and reticent. But what really happened in between? The period when he grew up? Cos current (adult) Hae-young comes across as brash and sometimes, arrogant — far different from the loner boy of his past. And why did he join the police force when he was and is in contempt of it? (given that the police didn’t really paid attention to his hyung’s case and later to the kidnapping case) Given that we have so much insight into Jae-han and Soo-hyun’s pasts, and see for ourselves their one-constant trait which made them good officers then and now, Hae-young’s character trajectory remains annoyingly fuzzy. And imo, as one of the main leads (plus the important link between Jae-han/ Soo-hyun), Hae-young really needs to be more fleshed out.