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Special Affairs Team TEN (2011-2013)

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The mention of OCN firsts last week set me thinking about what mine was. After some mulling over I came to the conclusion that it was something called The Virus (2013) which I don’t have a great deal of recollection about. But what makes it vaguely memorable is that it led me to my second OCN drama, TEN which heralded the start of my love affair with the “Only Crime Network”. During The Virus’ original run, ads for TEN S2 were also broadcast. They looked sufficiently eye-catching that I thought I should do a proper job and begin from the beginning.


TEN is an all-time favourite for many reasons. It’s a well-written, stylish police procedural that delves into complex, puzzling cases working from the template laid down by the likes of Criminal Minds and Wire in the Blood. The atmosphere is often bleak and moody reflecting the deathly content. The action revolves around a criminal investigation team that handles the most violent crimes occurring domestically. The “ten” comes from the fact that these violent crimes usually have less than 10% arrest rate. This elite team comprises of 4 members (rookie in tow) with a variety of detection and profiling skills as well as policing experiences. The main reason why this show has a special place in my heart is because it is the first Korean police drama that I came across in my early days watching K dramas that I didn’t have to urge to throw things at. It became a great comfort to me that South Koreans are capable of producing good crime shows and OCN is where it’s at. From then on I’ve been an avid follower of the cable network’s offerings… for better or worse.


Like with many other OCN shows, it is pre-requisite that the viewer come with a strong stomach. Violent crimes does mean violence… the whole bloody ball of wax. The team is spearheaded by Yeo Ji-hoon (Joo Sang-wook) a renowned criminologist-profiler (after the manner of Gideon and Hotchner) whose motto is “become a monster to catch a monster”. He has a tragedy in his past that drives him to extremes. Back Do-sik (Kim Sang-ho) is the veteran cop who has a couple of decades of field work under his belt. The other talented profiler in this team is the outwardly cheerful Nam Yi-re (Jo-An), psychology honours graduate who has an uncanny ability to read people accurately. Team Ten’s rookie is Choi Woo-shik’s Park Min-ho who doubles as Ji-hoon’s apprentice.


The drama follows the unit on a series of knotty problems from domestic crimes to serial deaths. Nothing is what they seem on first appearance. In the first case, the catalyst for the team’s eventual formation, members of the would-be-team are drawn from different vantage points to the murder of a young woman whose twin sister becomes the chief suspect. Ji-hoon’s interest is piqued because it resembles a series of unsolved killings from several years earlier involving women tied up in duct whose fingers are cut up while still alive. The pilot with its convoluted plot and introduction to the team is longer than a normal tv episode playing for about 2 hours.


In the time honoured tradition of cop shows, it’s inevitable that cops with different investigation styles butt heads at first. Do-shik, who is old school to the core is sceptical of the new fangled methods but eventually comes to have grudging respect for members of his team when the unit becomes a raging success apprehending culprits in difficult cases in record time. Ji-hoon is aloof and arrogant in Sherlock Holmes fashion but he respects genuine ability when he sees it. On some level, the drama has something to say about team building and necessity for teams to have diversity of approaches and perspectives to achieve success. Each member has their part to play and there are lessons they learn from each other in every case they work.


My two favourite cases involve serial deaths. The first one sees bodies disposed of in ritualistic fashion close to a popular recreational mountain trail. Each is accompanied by a biblical quote apparently condemning the victim of some previous crime. While trying to solve the murders, the team work against the clock and a persistent killer to prevent more deaths from occurring. As the investigation progresses it becomes evident that behind the killings is a deep grievance.


The second of my favourites is a serious of inexplicable suicides that references The Doors and Jim Morrison explicitly. Do-shik gets a call from a former colleague nicknamed “Dog Nose” who dies before he can say anything. His body is marked by multiple stab wounds which gets Do-shik on the case. He retraces Dog Noses’ steps, dragging Yi-re along. The deceased cop apparently lived up to his sobriquet as he was able to sniff out drugs on from a series of suicide victims which set him on the trajectory to his demise. Soon everyone on the team gets onboard after some inter-departmental wrangling to prove that there’s something far more sinister going on than suicide.


As a long time crime buff, TEN is a dream watch. The cases have depth and are mentally stimulating. It’s comparable with the best of the best from the UK and the US. The storytelling is top-notch and engaging on every level. It’s a joy to watch the team work and how their minds play out the solution of the individual cases. Each member is unique and have their own story arc that's integrated into the bigger story. It should be noted that the first season does end on a cliffhanger with Ji-hoon’s disappearance but that is resolved over the course of the second series. The second series although fascinating loses the freshness of the first. 


As I revisit portions of the drama for this review, I feel a certain nostalgia for it. Despite having watched many crime shows from Kdramaland since, this drama, the first season especially, has a classic feel to it that calls for a rewatch. It has aged well. The actors are noticeably younger but it was this show introduced me to all of them. When I see the actors in different dramas from time to time, I still wonder when we’re going to get a third season. 




Plot: 9.5

Storytelling: 10

Cast: 9

Production Values: 8

Rewatch Value: 9



Edited by 40somethingahjumma
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Currently Watching: Queen of Tears, In Blossom


"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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