I mentioned in the October Dramas post that “Misaeng“ was the show I was most looking forward to, and I’m happy to report that it is everything I wanted, hoped, and wished for, and then some. If last week’s episodes were dedicated to introducing our characters and setting up our conflict, this week we dug our heels into relationships, got to know our office workers a little better, and faced our first obstacle in the corporate ladder: the intern exam.
All in all, episodes 3 and 4 were as solid as they come. Here are the five things I loved about this week’s “Misaeng.”
1. Kang Sora’s Ahn Young Yi
One of my favorite things about Ahn Young Yi, the incredibly hard-working, smart, capable, and talented intern, is the fact that she has absolutely no problem putting the boys around her in their places. As the only female in her peer group, in a company that is dominated by men, Young Yi has to constantly take a stand against the other male interns who presume to be a little too friendly with her. She has to tread this fine line of not isolating herself from the group but also establishing firm boundaries about what is acceptable behavior. Not easy to do, let me tell you, but she does it with such grace. Another favorite thing I love about Young Yi is that she’s acknowledged as the star intern – everyone seems to think that she’s in shoo-in for a permanent position, and managers are literally thinking of re-arranging their seating assignments to accommodate her, giving her prime real-estate location among the desks, of course.
But more than that, I really adore Kang Sora‘s portrayal of Young Yi, which is interesting because we don’t really know much about her character except the controlled and assertive image she projects at work. To be quite honest, that can be a little off-putting–she’s a little too perfect, and little too polished, a little too unapproachable. And while all of those attributes are certainly nothing to look down upon, are, in fact, admirable, I’m not sure it’s enough for us as an audience to really care about her. After all, how can one relate to perfection? This is one of those cases where the quality of the actress really comes through. Kang Sora is, in so many little ways, elevating and humanizing Young Yi so that we not only care about her and root for her, but we want to know more. I’m eager to see what her story is, and what is in store for her character.
2. The Sales Team’s Reluctant Camaraderie
By the end of episode 3 I knew I was going to love our sales team trio. Despite themselves and the positions they hold, they each come to bat for one another. This is most obvious with Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) whose job it is to support both Manager Oh (Lee Sung Min) and office-mate Kim Dong Sik (Kim Dae Myung), but working in such close quarters with one another on a daily basis you’re bound to get attached, no matter how hard you try and resist.
In particular, I like the reluctant, and often contradictory, relationship that Manager Oh has with Geu Rae. He says that he wants Geu Rae to fail, but then gives him resources and quizzes him on terminology. He asks about Geu Rae’s presentation, but pretends not to care. He yells at Geu Rae in front of Suk Yool, but then trips Suk Yool in the elevator. He tells Geu Rae that he doesn’t deserve a chance, but then gives him pointers on how to survive. Oh Manager Oh, you may whine all day long about not having Young Yi as your intern, but in your heart of hearts you are cheering for Geu Rae, and we all know it too.
But it’s not just a one-sided affair either, because when Manager Oh is in a tough spot, it’s Geu Rae’s words of compromise that literally get Manager Oh running to come to bat for his right-hand man, Dong Sik, when he makes a mistake. It kills me how Geu Rae will often say or do something that just catches his team off guard, and it seems that Geu Rae isn’t the only one needing to learn a thing or two about how to survive.
Our sales team trio will never admit it, but they actually like each other! They are a team in more ways than one and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of their relationships and how they develop over the course of the story.
3. “That Dog” and “Yes”
Speaking of relationships, who knew that when Geu Rae and Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han), also known as the “clueless one” and the “slacker/dog” respectively, decided to be partners that it would turn out to be the most interesting plot development thus far. Suk Yool was largely portrayed as an overly-confident womanizer who liked to spend his time on site rather than in the office. His push-and-pull relationship with Geu Rae was as adorable as it was frustrating, with their ongoing disagreements through phone messages being animated on screen (and for those of you wondering, “Geu Rae” can be translated as “Yes” in English). But when things literally come to blows between them, it is revealed that there is so much more to Suk Yool than anticipated, and the fundamental stand-off between him and Geu Rae during the intern exam proved to be an emotional high point for this week.
And yet, much like our sales team trio, you can’t help but form attachments, despite your best intentions. I thought it was the cutest thing when Suk Yool finds out the results of the intern exam, his first reaction is to message Geu Rae to see if he passed or not, but at the last moment stops himself and slips his phone back into his pocket. You’re not fooling anyone, Suk Yool! It feels to be the start of a beautiful friendship, and I, for one, am so glad that Geu Rae has an ally/friend among his peers.
4. A Moment for the Pretty
Here’s a confession: I almost included Director Kim Won Suk in “The Next Big Thing” series, and these episodes are definitely making me regret not doing so (Kim also directed and “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” and “Cinderella’s Sister“). The rooftop scenes at the end of each episode are just too stunning not to mention on their own. I mean, yes, we have the physical beauty of the night time cityscape in episode 3, and the truly gorgeous sunset over Seoul in episode 4, but in each scene there’s a distinct mood that is enhanced by the surroundings (complete with appropriate background music). The night scape suits the moment of high tension between Geu Rae and Suk Yool and adds to the drama of the scene, while something as delicate as a fleeting sunset requires a kind of restraint on behalf of the actors, and it just all works together to deliver these wonderful, beautiful scenes.
Just watch Manager Oh and Geu Rae staring off into the sunset, contemplating a new turn of events, facing the future that lies just beyond the horizon, and try to tell me you don’t feel just a little bit breathless.
5. “We’re All Incomplete Lives”
But the thing that I love most about this drama is the subtly in which it handles its themes and questions, whether it’s if a kid who got into the company through his connections should be given a chance or not, or the fact that the Executive Director didn’t give Geu Rae any feedback on his intern exam (please don’t mean what I know you mean), or even something as seemingly insignificant as the fact that Geu Rae doesn’t know how to tie a tie (he definitely would have learned how to do it in school as part of his uniform, but since he didn’t attend he never learned and that lack of knowledge never had a reason to be rectified, until now). And all of it is so seamlessly woven into the story. Take, for example, when Suk Yool is giving his presentation eloquently, Geu Rae is in awe of how Suk Yool is able to make up lost time through his sheer control over the situation–something that resonates deeply with Geu Rae and it’s not a wonder that it does.
And so when Manager Oh is standing on that rooftop I was not prepared for his not subtle, but rather overt declaration that we are all “incomplete lives” but that we must proceed towards completeness. And that is what it means to survive. I feel like I might have missed something in this exchange, as I’m just reeling from his sudden drop of the show’s title, “Misaeng,” or “incomplete life,” and what makes the moment all the more unexpected is the nonchalant way Manager Oh delivers it. There’s no fuss, no pretense, no complications. It’s the complexity of the idea balanced with the clear and direct way of presenting it. Simply, “we are all incomplete lives trying to become complete.” However, the effect is total and poignant. What a moment.
“Misaeng” is an office drama, yes, if we had to categorize it. But there are just so many metaphors that can be applied outside of the workplace and into daily life. I only included 5 things I loved about “Misaeng” from this week, but in truth, there’s a lot to love. What are your favorite moments from this week’s episodes? Let us know in the comments below!
[tv]Check out “Misaeng” on SoompiTV! [/tv]