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The Weekend Binge: D.P. Season 2/Deserter Pursuit 2

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

Our deserter pursuit (D. P.) team has been pursuing military deserters for over a year. But the growing evidence of abuse, neglect, and even murder in the military begins to take a toll on our pursuers' consciences. Faced with growing pressure from the public and human rights groups, the D.P. team must now make difficult choices that may lead to explosive consequences.


Will they be able to do the right thing before it's too late? And what happens when the pursuers become the pursued?


GwenchaNoona | The Weekend Binge: "D.P. 2" (Deserter Pursuit 2) starring Jung Hae-in and Koo Kyo-hwan (photo of Jung Hae-in)

The Plot


In the first season, we meet Private Ahn Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in, Snowdrop) and Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyo-hwan, Extraordinary Attorney Woo), two soldiers who form part of the small "deserter pursuit" team. Over six episodes, we watch them track down and eventually bring back a number of deserters. Each episode of the show focuses on a deserter's story, and it is through the D.P. team that we come to understand why they would rather run away than stay in their barracks.


The first season ends with the case of Cho Suk-bong (Cho Hyun-chul, who won a Baeksang for this role), a perennially abused soldier who has tracked down his bully Hwang Jang-soo (Shin Seung-ho, Alchemy of Souls) and manages to drag him into a tunnel near one of the military bases. As the police, the military anti-terrorism unit, and the D.P. team converge on Cho, he realizes that there's no going back. In a tragic moment, he turns the gun away from Jang-soo and onto himself.


Ahn, in a last bid to save Cho, begs him to stand down , insisting that the military could still change. In response, Cho bitingly remarks:

"Do you know what canteens we use? Do you know what's written on them? 1953. They were used in the Korean War. They won't even change the canteens."

Realizing the futility of his situation, Cho pulls the trigger on himself, in full view of all the horrified soldiers.


The epilogue then shows a scene with Cho's friend Kim Ru-ree (Moon Sang-hoon, Dr. Romantic 3), many months after the incident with Cho. Kim, who has also been a victim of relentless bullying, is in a roomful of soldiers. He cocks his gun and ominously declares, "I should at least do something." He then proceeds to shoot his fellow soldiers while they eat.


*It is notable to point out that both tragedies take their cue from real-life military cases. Cho Suk-bong's story was inspired by the 2014 "Private Yoon" case while Kim Ru-ree's shooting rampage is from a "Sergeant Lim" case.


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Who chases the chasers?

The second season picks up precisely where the first one concluded. To deal with the aftermath of Cho Suk-bong's actions, the higher-ups in the military want to dismiss it as the actions of a mentally-unstable man. Before the ink dries, however, the entire squad is called to a mass shooting incident at Kim Ru-ree's base. The entire military is rounded up to hunt Kim, who is now on the run.

After resolving Kim Ru-ree's case, the reunited D.P. team takes on deserter cases that prove more and more difficult. They are tasked to track down a soldier whose identity as a drag queen has kept him on the run for years, as well as solve a suspicious case that brings them all the way to the demilitarized zone (DMZ).


While on the job, Jun-ho and Ho-yeol find themselves facing their old demons and grappling with new ones. They also find growing evidence of military cover-ups and fabrications, which puts them at odds with the highest echelons of the military.

Faced with growing public scrutiny and unable to ignore their moral compass, the D.P. team must make difficult decisions that would put their lives and careers at risk. But what would be the consequences if they turn into whistleblowers? And with the whole Ministry of Defense coming after them, will these pursuers even survive being pursued themselves?


Our Review

South Korean military law punishes military desertion with up to 10 years in prison. Yet a number of soldiers still insist on risking life and limb running away from it. In 2021, the first six episodes of D.P. fearlessly exposed the horrific abuse within the South Korean military and became an unexpected Netflix hit. It even won a Baeksang for Best Drama and numerous other critical awards. But the show's most remarkable achievement is how it launched real-life investigations of their military culture.


So does the second season live up to its impressive predecessor? We say it does, and even more fearlessly so.


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Things grow more difficult for our unlikely duo.

The show's first season is said to have triggered a wave of heated debates about military abuse in South Korea. Almost immediately, the defense ministry spokesperson stated that efforts evolved to actively address cases of soldier abuse and mistreatment. The military also claimed that the number of conscripts experiencing abuse as well as the number of deserters decreased. Conscientious objection had now become a valid reason to forgo military service. Recently, civilian courts have been tasked to handle sexual abuse scandals that happen within the military. Counseling services are now becoming more widely available for conscripts.


While some have attributed the recent shifts to the influence of the show, it is debatable whether the show truly deserves full credit for these changes. Moreover, many Koreans have met these developments with skepticism and remain unconvinced of their legitimacy — if the unchanging number of suicides in the military every year is any dismal indication.


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Can a few good men truly change anything?

In the first season, the show highlighted how the system treats deserters as both victims and criminals, while also showing the profound impact pursuit efforts have on those tasked to track them down. This was surprising because prior to D.P., most shows about the South Korean military were either romanticized k-dramas such as 2016's Descendants of the Sun, or variety show programs like Real Men where celebrities try out military training. In contrast, D.P. opts to use a little-known unit to shine a light on the inner workings and horrific abuse that happen within the military.


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The show even takes us to the units patrolling the edge of the DMZ.

The second season of D.P. is definitely more intense, more ambitious, and ballsier than the first in both theme and production. It not just features deserters, but also the inner workings of military conspiracy and corruption. Having warmed up the engine in the first season with individual cases, the second season ramps up the intensity by targeting the government and military institutions directly.


It is to the show's immense credit that it thoughtfully avoids caricature. The characters remain cynical, unmoved, and often unconvinced of their own agenda. There are also no overnight transformations here, and no cheesy montages that lead up to a happy ending. In fact, there is no huge schmaltzy victory at the end of the show — that's for Hollywood.


Instead, D.P. stays faithful to the bleak reality of whistleblowing and insists that rapid change is not possible when you're dealing with a behemoth like the Korean military. But it does offer a bit of hope and argues that change is not improbable if a few brave men (and women) would put their careers and lives on the line to expose the truth.


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This season's new characters are as impressive as the first one's.

D.P.'s ensemble cast has grown even more impressive this season. Jung Hae-in and Koo Kyo-hwan were rightfully lauded for their work back in 2021, and they continue to deliver well up to the show's penultimate shot. The characters that Son Suk-ku (My Liberation Notes) and Kim Sung-kyun (Weak Hero Class 1, Reply 1988) play have been given much more screentime in this now, and these veterans effortlessly steal the show in many moments.


There is so much to be said for the supporting cast as well. Bae Na-ra, in a tremendous debut, gives a heart-wrenching portrayal of a drag queen on the run. Moon Sang-hun manages to make his mass shooter a pitiable figure. Choi Hyun-wook (Twenty-Five Twenty-One, Weak Hero Class 1) also shines as a traumatized young soldier in the DMZ. Not one actor or actress is out of step, keeping the audience transfixed from one episode to the next.


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A soldier can only take so much

D.P. is unusually brave for a k-drama, and clearly wants to be more significant than entertaining. It is hard not to read the consummate focus, intense pacing, and brilliant performances of both seasons as a desperate wish for lasting change in the military. Like the show's protagonists, the creators and cast may never know the full extent of the effect D.P. will have in the future. For now, they will have to remember their own message: that change starts with a few good men. In this case, those few good men are the creators and cast themselves.


If the first season had enough material to ignite intense debates around military abuse and corruption, we hope that this second season carries those debates even longer and further until real change is achieved. Until then, we can only wish for more K-dramas of this courage and caliber.



Stream if you enjoyed the first season. In that case, you must see how it all ends in this second season. Or if you are interested in Korean military life.


Skip if abuse, violence, and self-harm are not your k-drama cup of tea.


 

References:

Jung, Y. E. (2022, March 7). The ripple effect of D.P.. Annals of Yonsei University Health Sciences, 31(1), 10532. Retrieved from https://annals.yonsei.ac.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=10532


Reuters. (2022, March 7). South Korea's military takes issue with Netflix drama "D.P.". Retrievable from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-military-netflix-dp-idCAKBN2GA0DK



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