It is the beginning of the end, my friends, whether we like it or not (decidedly not), and that means the drama is going to take steps to resolve plot points and conflicts for our characters as we speed along towards that brilliant opening sequence in Jordan way back in episode 1.
Which means that things will get so much worse for our One International team before they get better.
Character development was at the center of episodes 15 and 16 of “Misaeng” but the stand out this week was really Jang Geu Rae (Im Siwan), who somehow manages to still find worth in the work he does, even when there is an unforgiving expiration date for him at One International. Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul) finds out about Geu Rae’s past, which finally lets him put aside his jealously and open the door to a camaraderie between peers. Meanwhile, Ahn Young Yi (Kang So Ra) can’t seem to catch a break; not only is she still the target of Chief Ma, but we finally understand that she’s been paying off the debt amounting from her father’s risky business ventures. Han Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han) isn’t fairing much better, finding himself backed into a corner where he can’t win over his boss, and sacrifices who he is in order to survive.
Another week, another set of engaging, poignant episodes. Here are the 5 things I loved about “Misaeng” episodes 15 and 16. Fair warning, it’s going to be a Geu Rae love fest.
1. Team Ahn Young Yi
Our Young Yi has had a difficult time working with her team, to put it lightly. As I’ve said before, it hasn’t been easy watching this capable young woman be relegated to the coffee and cigarettes fetcher, be criticized for what she wears or doesn’t wear, be insulted and demeaned by ridiculous generalizations and stereotypes her bosses hold for women. But instead of complaining, of putting up a fight, she decided to keep her head down, to let herself work – no matter what kind of work it was – and be part of her team, in whatever way they would let her.
But ever so slowly, little by excruciating little, her team came around. She was recognized for her expertise, was able to show how what she’s able to contribute to the team besides cleaning up after their messes, and in this week’s episodes we really saw how Young Yi was able to win them all over.
In episode 15, when Young Yi is out of sorts because of family troubles, her team steps up and covers for her, all of them knowing that something is wrong because this isn’t typical behavior. They aren’t dismissive of her or make her feel bad by blaming her behavior on being a woman, rather, they have real concern for her. I was surprised by the sensitivity that Manager Jung showed Young Yi, mostly because we’ve seen him get physically aggressive a few times with members of Sales Team 3.
All of that culminates in episode 16 when Chief Ma, once again, throws (a hissy fit) his weight around to get Young Yi to give her project to another team, and Manager Jung tries his hardest to stand by her. Even Team Leader Ha offers her advice to “not always back down, but to pick your battles.” This would have been unheard of months before. I appreciate that this change has been so gradual, that is has been the result of many months of working closely with each other.
And so when Manager Jung finally sticks it to Chief Ma to leave his team alone, which very much includes Young Yi, it is such sweet, sweet satisfaction. As we look towards the future, I am eagerly waiting for the moment when Young Yi gets the upper hand against Chief Ma and heads up something amazing to make up for the fact that she was forced to give up so much.
2. Suk Yool Gets His Groove Back
As opposed to Young Yi, Suk Yool decided early on to be the one to throw the first “punch” of sorts against his boss… and that blew up in his face. While everyone knows what Team Leader Sung has done to Suk Yool is unfair, it is, unfortunately, not uncommon and, well, there’s a hierarchy that needs to be respected.
And our bright Suk Yool learned that lesson the hard way.
How heartbreaking was it to see how much it cost Suk Yool to play by the company’s rules – a place he didn’t initially want to be anyway. When, in episode 16, he looks and acts like any other office worker, has conformed, has fallen in line, has become so much another generic minion that even Geu Rae confesses that he misses the old Suk Yool. How painful was it to watch him align himself with the office workers when factory workers visited to protest the unfair demands placed on them?
He not only looked worn down, but he had lost his will completely. And the fact that Suk Yool was so unhappy at the office, but could no longer escape to his much-beloved factory sites? “Misaeng,” why do you have to be so cruel?
I couldn’t have been the only one who breathed a sigh of relief when Suk Yool re-parted his hair by the end of episode 16. Who would have thought a simple hair style change would have so much significance? I mean, Suk Yool looked great, amazing, fantastic in his new hair style, but I have never been so over the moon to see the return of that ridiculous center part.
I’ve mentioned how pleasant it has been to watch the acting talents of Byun Yo Han through “Misaeng” and his strengths really show in episode 16. He was so subtle and natural in his scenes, and the contrast he was able to show with the same character was striking. And while I’m happy we got so see a different side to both Suk Yool and Byun Yo Han, I’m ready for the return of happier times for our “dog.”
3. Baek Ki and Geu Rae Are Strange Bedfellows
When I saw the previews for episode 15, I was ecstatic. Ecstatic, I tell you. The Baek Ki and Geu Rae dynamic has been drawn out and toyed with for the whole of the drama’s run, and I was waiting, eagerly, for the day when the two of them could put aside the pettiness that keeps them apart, because don’t they see that they could be the best of friends? Okay, maybe not the best of friends, but they could learn so much from each other and their interactions, growing not only as capable office workers but also as people, and it would be so wonderful to witness (they could be so much more but they have been playin’).
Over the course of the last several weeks, Baek Ki has described Geu Rae, and his relationship with Geu Rae, in different, often contrasting ways. He has claimed that he isn’t so much jealous of Geu Rae, but is rather angry at himself when he sees his peers doing well. Only, he isn’t ever upset when Young Yi or even Suk Yool have good news (not that there has been much to celebrate with the newbies), but he gets downright juvenile when it comes to any praise or recognition Geu Rae receives. Not Jealous? Then what is that expression that crosses your face when Geu Rae so much as speaks with Team Leader Kang? Psh, be a little more honest with yourself, Baek Ki.
When Baek Ki accompanies Geu Rae on his mission to sell an item of his choice (cheap socks and underwear), I was ready to board the train that would lead them to learning more about each other. It was natural that both Baek Ki and Geu Rae, acting separate from each other, would fail the mission. Of course they would only succeed, as they eventually would, when they worked together.
I can’t express how much I loved that out of all the newbies, it is Baek Ki who first found out about Geu Rae’s past. Remember that the very first thing Baek Ki learns about Geu Rae is that he got the internship because of his connections; that Geu Rae isn’t actually qualified for his position, that he hasn’t had the training, put in the time, or had the education to stand with the rest of the interns. In short, he hasn’t earned the opportunity that has been given to him the way the rest of the interns have. As the drama has unfolded, Baek Ki understands that there isn’t anything in his power to change the fact that Geu Rae made it through the internship, but that initial perception has always lingered. Combine it with the fact that things seem to always go so swimmingly for Geu Rae, where as Baek Ki has only just begun to do actual work for his team, and it all just seems…so unfair. We all know things are not quite as simple as that, but from Baek Ki’s perspective, Geu Rae has all the luck where he has had none.
So when Baek Ki wanders the hallways of Geu Rae’s old “Go” academy and overhears students talk about the Jang Geu Rae, my heart fluttered because the time had come for Baek Ki to realize that Geu Rae might have been lucky to get a spot at One International, but that it has been, perhaps, his only lucky break. To understand that while he had been working hard at school, Geu Rae wasn’t sitting around twirling his thumbs, or that he didn’t have ambitions or dreams. To find that Geu Rae needed that lucky break because he had lost the thing that had once been his entire world.
To come to the realization that he had Geu Rae wrong this entire time.
The drama has done such a good job of keeping Geu Rae’s past a guarded secret, and they don’t waste the information on Baek Ki. He is privileged to it because it gets him to regard Geu Rae in a respectable light, and opens the door for them to be equals. And for drunken good times selling socks and underwear.
I’m glad we have this little conflict resolved because that leaves enough room in the last 4 episodes for further development both individually and together. And I am here for more Baek Ki and Geu Rae times.
4. Im Siwan as Jang Geu Rae
I have not talked enough about how incredible Siwan has been in “Misaeng” and I am about to make up for that oversight right about…now.
To be quite honest, I hadn’t seen anything Siwan had acted in before, had barely even heard of his group, Z:EA. I have only ever known him as the actor who plays Jang Geu Rae. And if I never watch anything else from him ever again (unlikely), his performance in “Misaeng” has been enough for me to say, unequivocally, that he is not just one of the best “idol-actors” but that he is one of the best actors of his generation.
The character of Geu Rae requires great delicacy. He doesn’t just look sad, lost, hopeless. He is constantly at the edge of despair, teetering on the brink of the impossible unknown, but we shouldn’t see how much he’s struggling. It can’t be overt. Geu Rae has had to learn how to survive when life is at its most unforgiving, and he hasn’t had the luxury to be so expressive or to wallow in his circumstances.
And it is this delicacy, this restraint, that Siwan gives Geu Rae. He isn’t naturally verbose, and Siwan has to convey so many feelings to viewers with almost nothing but his face. In almost all his scenes, Siwan is in his suit with hardly any props to aid him in the revealing whether Geu Rae is feeling frustrated, nostalgic, anxious, joyful, etc. It’s just him, the suit, and the camera (and later, music). Every look, every gesture, must then be both intentional and subtle. How well Siwan’s able to communicate Geu Rae’s thoughts and emotions without saying or doing very much, by actually holding back, has been, for me, one of the most impressive things about “Misaeng.”
Take, for instance, when in episode 16, Geu Rae overhears that his project has to be given to someone else on his team because he’s only a “temporary employee,” his devastation is marked by the way he turns his face away as if he’s been physically slapped by the words that continue to haunt him. Siwan destroyed me with a turn of his head.
But it’s not only that. It’s also when he picks up Baek Ki’s pen in episode 15. And in how he squares his shoulders before making an announcement before a crowded subway car that he’s selling socks. It’s when he bows to Manager Oh in episode 16 and requests that his project be headed up by someone else.
So while I was ignorant of Im Siwan before “Misaeng,” I can’t and won’t stop singing his praises for his portrayal of Jang Geu Rae. He has earned it.
5. Once a “Go” Player, Always a “Go” Player
And I’m just going to keep writing about Geu Rae, I hope that’s okay with you.
I mentioned last week how I loved how “Misaeng” was tying in the game of “Go” into the drama in all these fantastic and interesting ways. So it goes without saying that I nearly had a heart attack when I saw Geu Rae standing in front of his old “Go” academy.
I was not expecting this turn of events at all. Because Geu Rae’s relationship with the game is so deeply ingrained in him, is so incredibly painful, even I didn’t want him to suffer that unique kind of torture as to face, ever so brutally, the evidence of his past life and what he would have been. I naively thought that, you know, some things were sacred.
But leave it to this drama to spare none of our emotions! As if the scenes of Geu Rae hesitating in the halls, of coming across he old teacher, of the students lamenting his past weren’t enough, the exchange between him and his teacher, who gives him yet another lesson in life – or is it in “Go,” I can’t tell anymore – was everything that “Misaeng” does so well; it was beautiful and poignant and heartfelt and honest.
I loved that Geu Rae had to muster the mental and emotional strength to step foot in his academy, and that he had to put aside his shame at meeting his old teacher under such circumstances after so many years, but despite all of that, he still didn’t make the sale. That he still walked out of the academy with full bags because he should have remembered to “leave out his family.”
Well, I already said that “Misaeng” has no mercy for the emotionally weak.
I have to admit, for one breathless moment, after having been initially rejected by his teacher, I thought that Geu Rae might actually play “Go” for the sale, but then I realized, shockingly, that we can’t have “Misaeng” end without seeing Geu Rae play – and that the drama is saving it until the end!
We’re so many weeks into “Misaeng” and are so invested in the characters and their stories; the emotions run deeper and the stakes are higher, but the rewards are so worthwhile. It’s hard to believe we only have 2 more weeks left before we say goodbye, and while I’m looking forward to what the drama has planned for our One International team, I am loath to see it reach the end.
Those were the 5 things I loved about “Misaeng” from this week. What did you think about episodes 15 and 16? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and see you all next week!