“Misaeng” keeps knocking me out with its weekly offerings of great acting performances, tight writing, lovely shots and editing, and heartwarming stories about characters we’ve grown to really care about. This week at the office was a tough one for everyone – Young Yi is still dealing with being on a team that abuses and under-appreciates her, Baek Ki has second thoughts about staying at One International, and Sales Team 3 keeps getting dealt blow after disappointing blow. It’s a cutthroat world of business out there, and the biggest question of the week was “When is it too much?”
In a drama like “Misaeng,” it’s difficult to pick out just five moments that I loved this week, but here are the ones that stood out slightly above the rest.
1. The Team That Drinks Expired Milk Together, Stays Together
I knew I was going to enjoy watching all the ways in which Sales Team 3 would grow as a, well, team, but I had no idea that they would make me love them as they did so. It is great to see how well Geu Rae (Im Siwan) has made himself a part of the team, becoming almost indispensable to Dong Sik and Manager Oh (Lee Sung Min), and the three of them really showed a united front when confronted with a formidable client, Mr. Mun. But it is also, again, the ways in which they look out for one another – Geu Rae worrying about Manager Oh’s health, Dong Sik who is constantly narrating events so that Geu Rae knows what is going on, the way Manager Oh takes on a seemingly impossible client to get more people on the team so that Dong Sik isn’t worked to the point of exhaustion – that goes past their team work and into something more personal.
So even when the team is hit hard by disappointment, mocked by rejection and the ambitions of others, what helps take the edge off is the fact that they showed a unified front, worked hard together towards a goal, and are so much better as a team for it. I’m glad that after putting in so many hours of work on a project in Episode 7, only to have their project taken away from them, Sales Team 3 was able to redeem themselves by doing the impossible, landing a major project with someone as particular as Mr. Mun.
It seems our Sales Team 3 have really come together as a unit. It’s a good thing too because the end of Episode 8 brings a new addition to the team, and by the looks of things, he is going to stir things up for our Sales Team triumvirate. I’m definitely curious to see the dynamic changes!
2. Lee Sung Min as Manager Oh
I felt that this week was all about Manager Oh, who on paper, is already a complex and interesting character, but he’s made all the more so by Lee Sung Min and all the nuances and neuroses he brings every time he is on screen. Lee gives Manager Oh so many layers, making him at times incredibly childlike, petulant, and immature, but also intimidating as a tour-de-force, and yet at all times remarkably relatable in both his triumphs and his failures.
We laugh with Manager Oh, celebrate his victories with him, feel his disappointments keenly, and the level of investment in this character is largely because of Lee Sung Min’s comedic timing and the way he’s able to express himself simply through his face and body posture. The fact that Manager Oh carries around with him a box of cigarettes which he doesn’t smoke (please keep references to “The Fault in our Stars” at bay), the fact he always looks like he never gets enough sleep, that awesome false smile – all little things that make Manager Oh come to life.
Moreover, I think Lee Sung Min’s performance really gets at the very heart of “Misaeng.” That this drama, for all of its internal structures, setup, and billing, is very much a human story, and he doesn’t let us forget it.
3. Baek Ki Takes a Stand… and Gets Knocked Down
Finally, we get more of Baek Ki’s storyline and Kang Ha Neul gets to do something other than look bored and disappointed (although he certainly had his fair share of that this week too). Baek Ki is an interesting character because for most of this drama he has been teetering on the edge of action. We all know that he is certainly ambitious, but that he’s slow to act when it doesn’t benefit him, preferring to watch from the sidelines rather than to get involved. As such, he’s been so much of a bore, I’m sorry to say. But no, not any more, not after these episodes!
Poor Baek Ki has had to sit around doing nothing, literally, while he watches the rest of the newbies advance into taking on larger projects and are given great responsibilities. Given his personality, this definitely gets under his skin, but again, he’s not one to disturb the order of things, and only meekly requests work from this direct supervisor. That is, until he’s pushed to his limit and lashes out, calling his mistreatment a personal vendetta, and demands to know just what he did to make his supervisor dislike him so much.
Now, I found it a little naive that Baek Ki would think that the reason he was being ignored was personal, although in hindsight it makes perfect sense since Baek Ki is so full of his own self-worth that he doesn’t believe he has made a misstep anywhere or that he lacks basic skills. And I really loved that the reason that he’s been so underutilized is because of his own hubris. The cockiness with which he joined the Steel team, which was so beneath him, comes and bites him in the behind. There’s your poetic justice for you.
I’ve generally been lukewarm towards his character because the fact that Baek Ki would constantly defer in all things and take the path of least resistance, didn’t inspire great feelings of sympathy. But now that was forced into a corner, took a stand, and was taken down a couple of notches, I am really interested in what he’s planning and how he’s going to change moving forward.
4. The Principle of the Matter
The complicated web of office politics became more apparent in this week, with each team submitting different proposals. After taking on a seemingly impossible project and working so hard to make the project not only possible, but profitable and desirable, Sales Team 3 is met with devastating news: not only does the department head pick another Sales Team’s project, but the Executive Director hands their project over to the Resources team. The shot Manager Oh, Dong Sik, and Geu Rae are forced to drink must taste of bitterness as they watch all their hard work slip from their hands.
But more than that, Sales Team 3 finds itself in the position of really needing to come up with something big and impressive – after all, we need to get Manager Oh promoted and, oh yeah, we need to do well in the wake of Dong Sik’s previous mistake. Their backs to the wall, the team is given a project that Manager Oh, in all his daringness, won’t touch. Why? Well, it is simply because it goes against his principles.
And we come to this question of how much someone is willing to endure for success. The project is huge and landing it would do a lot of good for Sales Team 3, who, to be quite honest, is in some desperate times. But everyone has a line which they won’t cross, where so much becomes too much, and they’ve reached their limits. And yet, despite Manager Oh’s initial rejection, Sales Team 3 takes on the task while trying to maintain their own principles.
It’s harder than it seems, and sort of noble in something like the world of business where lines of decency tend to blur because the bottom line is the most important thing at the end of the day, forget your principles.
But it isn’t just the sales team who is facing this question. Young Yi (Kang So Ra) is being pushed to her limits by her team, and she has to think about much of their abuse she’s willing to endure for her principles. Similarly, as mentioned above, Baek Ki is going through his own ordeal on his respective team.
They all come to their own conclusions, but the crowning moment of this set of episodes was definitely when Sales Team 3, having chosen to preserve their principles, thought they had lost that ever important project, is vindicated when the client, Mr. Mun, signs the agreement. It’s a wonderful moment, if perhaps a slightly optimistic one, but the joy on Sales Team 3’s faces when they had been at their lowest is enough to make me believe that maybe, even in business, one doesn’t have to sacrifice their principles in order to gain success.
That, at the end of the day, when you get home to your family, you’re able to bring food to the table and look your children in the eye.
5. Is It Too Early To Call Them “Young Ki”?
Well, well, well, it seems we have stirrings of a possible love line between our newbies, and I was surprised to find myself surprised by it. Baek Ki and Young Yi’s relationship is particularly intriguing because while Baek Ki certainly showed interest in her at the beginning of the drama, once things got down to business, his interest seemed to cool down, while one Young Yi’s end she grew closer to Geu Rae. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I was hoping that “Misaeng” wouldn’t bring a triangle into a show filled with so much drama already, and I just thought they would stay true to course of developing Geu Rae and Young Yi’s relationship. Silly me.
Initially, I wasn’t keen on Baek Ki and Young Yi as a couple because, as I mentioned previously, Baek Ki was a character that didn’t inspire much admiration on my part, and generally, I think he didn’t brought out the best in Young Yi (which is the appeal of Geu Rae). Moreover, she didn’t seem interested in Baek Ki, and with her developing friendship with Geu Rae, I sort of washed my hands of “Young Ki” ever becoming a thing.
It is a wonder how a little scar cream can change everything.
Because now that I’ve got this taste of Young Yi and Baek Ki as actual romantic interests, I am so on board. This week had the pair warming up to each other, going as far as to meet up after work for rainy day drinks and, on another unintentional occasion, watching a movie together. What I loved about their interactions this week was that there wasn’t any pretense to be found in them. It is easy to see how compatible they are on the surface, having been seen as the cream of the crop in the intern pool, which I think forced a kind of bravado from Baek Ki in the way he treated Young Yi. But they are now at a point where bravado has no place and they’ve seen each other’s weaknesses and vulnerability. It makes for a more honest foundation in which any sort of relationship can thrive.
Another thing that I like about them is that Young Yi is constantly surprising Baek Ki by being something other than what he expects. By knocking down Baek Ki’s expectations of her, it leaves the door open to develop something more truthful. Will Baek Ki still like Young Yi in all of her reality? Will he put aside both his expectations of her and him to let her get to know him as he is? So many questions!
And now that Baek Ki is a man of action, I’m hoping he’s injected with a new sense of purpose which will inspire admiration, not only from the audience, but also in Young Yi. Not that she doesn’t respect or admire him, but their world views are, at the present, at odds with one another. What I would want out of a romantic relationship between them (or anyone, let’s be honest) is that they elevate and inspire the other, which I don’t think Baek Ki has done for Young Yi just yet.
That being said, the previews for next week more than hint at their budding relationship, and really, I did not need another reason to look forward to this drama.
Those were the things I loved most about “Misaeng” this week. What are your favorite moments? Am I the only person on the “Young Ki” ship? Let me know in the comments below!
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