The problem, if you can even call it that, with writing weekly commentaries about a show like “Misaeng” is that you start to sound like a broken record. How many times can I write about how great the writing is, how clear the vision of the director is, the specific and effective use of the background music, the quality of the acting? But it’s all true, and what’s more is that it actually gets better week after week. Without fail.
Episodes 13 and 14 once again had Geu Rae (Im Siwan) in the spotlight after word got out that Sales Team 3’s bold project was Geu Rae’s brainchild. But proving how fickle business can be, and that notoriety doesn’t account for much in the end, Geu Rae faces the reality that he’s merely a 2-year contract company worker, and that clock is fast approaching midnight (where his bus will promptly turn back into a pumpkin).
Things aren’t looking that great for the other newbies, as Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han) wages an attack on his boss, and Young Yi (Kang So Ra) becomes the target of abuse for yet another higher up. This week’s pair of episodes were the heaviest yet, and set up obstacles for our characters as we head into the last few weeks of the show (say it ain’t so!).
These are the 5 things I loved from “Misaeng” episodes 13 and 14.
1. Another Win for the Team!
This is a prime example of what I meant when I said that “Misaeng” takes what it does well, and makes it better. It is such a joy to watch how this team changes in minute ways with each passing week. And with Manager Chun (Park Hae Joon) putting aside his concerns and committing himself to the team, well, this is what we were hoping for from the beginning.
I bit off all my nails (I’m not even a nail biter) at the beginning of episode 13 when waiting to see how Sales Team 3’s big gamble of continuing/expanding the Jordan used car project would be received and if they’d be able to convince the toughest panel of executives that it was worth pursuing. When it all worked out, I felt like Geu Rae, someone could just breathe on me and I’d fall over, I was so relieved.
And the fact that I felt so anxious, that I wasn’t sure if they would be successful or not, is due in part to how great the writing has been for “Misaeng.” I didn’t have the confidence that Sales Team 3 could pull it off, because they’ve been burned before, and the fact that I couldn’t predict what would happen, well, that’s always a good sign of a great drama.
Here’s the other thing, yes, it was Manager Oh (Lee Sung Min) who gave voice to the team and presented the project, his delivery that held the attention of the panel, but it was also Geu Rae’s idea, Dong Sik (Kim Dae Myung)’s presentation file, and Chun’s support that made the presentation successful. Manager Oh isn’t the perfect manager and the rest of the team isn’t without their faults, but I think they make up for each other’s shortcomings with their own strengths. It takes a perfect balance of parts, a combination of specific types, to be successful as a team, and their approval in episode 13 not only shows what a team is capable of when they work together, it also showcases what this team is able to do.
And was it me or was everyone looking at Geu Rae with such fatherly, proud eyes?
2. Gratuitous Images of Male Bonding
Going back to my previous point about Team Leader Kang (Oh Min Suk), who I mistakenly called “Team Leader Jang,” being the remedy for everything that is deficient about Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul)’s training, this week really drove home the point that what Baek Ki needs most is to learn patience. And what department could he learn that better than in steel, and who better a teacher than Kang? As Baek Ki and Kang’s relationship progresses, I’ve really enjoyed watching Kang blossom as a character.
There’s just something noble in the quietness and stillness that Kang possesses. He’s incredibly steadfast, upright, and self-assured. And he shows us the other side of business – not everyone can be superstars who are in the spotlight for one good idea; no business could sustain itself on that kind of luck. There must be others who are constantly carrying out the daily work of the company, which may seem unglamorous to some but is by no means less important.
This is why I like Team Leader Kang so much. He’s not out for the attention or the fleeting fame that one great idea can bring. He’s far more interested in the process, the dignity of doing your job day by day and doing it well. In his dedication to his work, he shows us – and Baek Ki – that the Steel team doesn’t lose to anyone.
I also like that Baek Ki and Team Leader Kang’s relationship is mirrored by the underlying principles of the steel business. It’s slow. It requires patience. You have to constantly work at it, little by little, day by day. But the results will come. It was beyond adorable but so characteristic of Baek Ki to be so eager for a closer relationship with Kang, and again, it was an lesson in patience (however unintended as it might have been).
Baek Ki may huff and mumble under his breath all he wants about the nit-picky ways of Team Leader Kang, but at the end of the day, how happy was he that they got to spend some time together outside of work? And the fact that they went to a sauna and had that typical and picture perfect date of drinking by the Han River?
And you thought there wouldn’t be fluttery feelings in “Misaeng.”
3. “Us” “We” “Our”
In English, we often don’t think much of the pronouns “us” “we” and “our” although we use them all the time. In Korean, there is a slight nuance in meaning; the idea of something shared between people, of being included in a group, of partaking in a shared identity can be conveyed using the same word: “woori” (우리). It doesn’t separate the individual. It is inclusive rather than exclusive. And for someone like Geu Rae, who has spent a large part of his life excluded from the rest of society, has lived a solitary existence apart from his peers, who has been “left behind,” this one word carries such weight.
It is the word Manager Oh uses at the start of “Misaeng” which makes Geu Rae tear up (“Our kid was blamed!”), it is the word that Young Yi uses in episode 11 that literally makes Geu Rae stop in his tracks (“It will have been a year for us in the spring”), and it is the word Geu Rae himself uses in episode 13 when questioned by the President about why he came up with such a daring idea for Sales Team 3’s project (“Because… it is our company”). In this light, it makes total sense that it would be Geu Rae who has the spark of the idea, because he’s the one who will cherish being part of the whole far more than anyone else. Of course Geu Rae is going to want to step up and take responsibility for the mistakes of One International’s past. It’s a workplace and company, but it is his workplace and company.
Geu Rae also uses this word with Manager Oh when, having grown despondent about his temporary status as an employee at One International, he explains that he doesn’t care about becoming a regular employee. Rather, what has him so down is that he just wants to continue working together with the rest of the team (“We keep going, together”). Having regained an identity and lived as part of a whole, Geu Rae is now desperate to hold onto it.
There is such significance for Geu Rae in “woori” and again, I have to applaud the writers for the restraint that they employ, because when they use it, it just hits you right in the chest.
4. The Game of Life
I actually spent the last weekend in a coffee shop that, by complete serendipity, was hosting a game night for “Go.” I could not believe my luck as I sat down for a few minutes learning about the general rules of the game. I knew from “Misaeng” that the game of “Go” was useful in illustrating themes for life and work, but I didn’t realize just how fitting, how appropriate, and how strong the correlations were.
We’ve seen Geu Rae play the workplace game over the past several weeks; he’s had some successes and has had to take some losses as well, but with all of that perhaps we’ve forgotten that he’s also playing the game of life, and he’s found himself in a bit of a bind this week when it really hits that he’s fighting a losing battle. He’s come so far and achieved so much, but the odds weren’t ever in his favor in terms of him securing a means for a complete life. Geu Rae thought he was gaining advantage in one game, but we see that he’s still as incomplete as ever, still susceptible to being taken advantage of, still as vulnerable as ever, still uncertain of his fate.
I love that the drama never lets us forget that Geu Rae is a “Go” player at heart. It is the way he best understands the world, and in selectively bringing in these lessons from “Go” into the show, I think, gives it such a unique and profound color. And “Misaeng” is so careful, so subtle, in the way it goes about doing so, which is so appreciated.
I know that Geu Rae is feeling down on his luck, but remember, he’s a “Go” player and that game is all about strategy so if there’s anything Geu Rae knows how to do, it is to find a way to live, a way towards life, towards completeness.
5. Manager Oh
Lee Sung Min, once again, left me speechless in these episodes. Having played a smaller role in episode 13 and much of 14, I was not expecting him to deliver the performance of this entire drama full of great acting.
We get more of the story regarding the past employee who unfortunately passed away, Lee Eun Ji. After a particularly distressing meeting with Executive Director Choi (Lee Kyoung Young), who seems to have removed all responsibility and memory of Eun Ji from his mind although he clearly knew her and knew her well, Manager Oh is distraught. Luckily, Manager Sun (Shin Eun Jung) intercepts him, and what we have is the groundwork for the emotional highlight of the week.
I have really enjoyed the dynamic between Manager Oh and Manager Sun in this drama, and no more than in this rooftop scene. There’s trust there that is mostly likely the result of several years working together, and since they’re equals, Manager Oh can express himself to her in a way that he wouldn’t with anyone from his team. And the fact that Manager Sun knew Eun Ji and remembers her? There’s shared sympathy there too.
All that aside, this scene is all about Lee Sung Min.
The way he is barely able to keep it together, the way he forces words from his lips, the way his face crumples as he recalls Eun Ji and predicts the life she might have lived, the way the camera focuses just on his face and the war behind his eyes… words fail.
Good thing there’s a whole week for us to recover from the emotional onslaught of Lee Sung Min’s Manager Oh.
Those are the 5 things I loved about this week’s “Misaeng.” What are yours? Leave me a comment below!