Side dish: You’re not going to believe this, but I’m taking time from my vacation in New York to write the last two recaps for “Misaeng”. For dinner, I went to an Alsatian restaurant, and ate choucroute garnie. Alsace is in France, but this dish, sauerkraut with sausages, is pretty German. Here’s a recipe from the James Beard Foundation.
In the office conference room, Sales Team 3 leader, Oh Sang Sik (Lee Sung Min) plays a recording of a phone call between newbie contractor Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) and resident China employee, Mr. Seok to his subordinates, Kim Dong Sik (Kim Dae Myung), Mr. Chun (Park Hae Joon), and Geu Rae, himself. In the phone call, Geu Rae is just about to voice his suspicion that the executive director is getting kickbacks on the China solar project deal when he’s cut off by a roar from Sang Sik. Sang Sik ends the recording and calls Mr. Seok to jovially assure him that the conversation was a mistake on Geu Rae’s part, and that the recording has been deleted.
The atmosphere is heavy as Sang Sik sends Mr. Chun and Dong Sik out of the room. Sang Sik asks Geu Rae why he couldn’t have more faith in him, then explains that if Geu Rae’s actions trigger an investigation and the executive director’s hands are clean, then it’s Sales Team 3 who will pay the price. Up on the roof, Mr. Chun explains to Dong Sik that Geu Rae was trying to save the team since he found out that they were trying to save him. Dong Sik is disappointed that Geu Rae didn’t come to him for advice first.
To ease Mr. Seok’s suspicions, they decide to get back to work on the project. Geu Rae looks abashed as Sang Sik issues instructions, then goes to see the executive director to discuss the agent. The executive director explains to Sang Sik that in his 28 years at One International, he’s saved the company many times over by using his connections in China, and the agent is a part of maintaining his connections. Sang Sik insists that the contract proceed with the original amount listed. Sang Sik promises that with the original deal, he’ll make sure that the power plant business, which follows the solar panel deal, will proceed, and that the executive director will get his promotion to vice president.
Back at the office, they’re back to work, but later on the rooftop, Dong Sik and Mr. Chun question whether it’s going to be okay. Sang Sik assures them that it will.
Mr. Chun is called in to the executive director’s office, where he’s questioned about whether the deal will go ahead as Sang Sik has laid it out. Mr. Chun nervously asks him to have faith in Sang Sik, as I notice the executive director’s fantastic sparkly tie for the first time.
Back at the Fibre Team, newbie Han Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han) is having problems with the Chungsol company, who wants to use lower-quality substitute parts in their product. When Suk Yool takes the problem to his supervisor, Assistant Manager Sung (Tae In Ho), they’re interrupted by a phone call from the Chungsol company to Assistant Manager Sung, informing him that they’ve stopped production. After chewing out Suk Yool for causing a delay, Assistant Manager Sung leaves to sort out the problem at the factory. Suk Yool follows him into the stairwell, and listens in as Assistant Manager Sung has a phone conversation with someone about paying money back.
Unhappy to have his suspicions seemingly confirmed, Suk Yool goes to the staff kitchen, where he runs into Resource Team newbie, An Young Yi (Kang So Ra), and Steel Team newbie, Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul). When he asks after Geu Rae, Young Yi catches him up on the situation with the China solar panel project. Both Young Yi and Suk Yool are disappointed that Sang Sik would play politics with the executive director, just as Geu Rae walks in. Geu Rae tells them off and storms away, leaving Baek Ki to explain that Sang Sik had taken the project in order to make Geu Rae a permanent employee.
That evening, Sang Sik is invited to dinner with the executive director, but arrives to find Geu Rae already there. Sang Sik and Geu Rae look like they’ve been called into the principal’s office, while the executive director speaks of strategies where enemies may have common interests. Sang Sik responds by sending Geu Rae back to the office, and silently listening while the executive director makes oblique threats.
The next morning, Sang Sik agrees to do as the executive director wants, as long as he has a definite assurance that his team will not take the consequences for working with connections. The executive director assures Sang Sik that he’ll take the responsibility. Thrown for a loop by his easy acquiescence, Sang Sik ends up on the roof with Sales Team 1 leader, Sun Ji Young (Shin Eun Jung), wondering at the executive director’s motives. Ji Young encourages Sang Sik to go ahead with the deal.
Back at the Fibre Team, Assistant Manager Sung tells a suspicious Suk Yool to hold back the monthly financial report to General Affairs.
Baek Ki, Assistant Manager Kang (Oh Min Suk) and Assistant Manager Ha (Jun Suk Ho) are waiting for the elevator, when it opens to reveal two attractive women. Oblivious, Baek Ki gets on the elevator as the assistant managers immediately change course and follow the women. The two men stare, entranced, as the two women are revealed to be from headquarters, conducting a workplace improvement survey. Luckily, Assistant Manager Kang is more attracted to the short-tempered, but efficient boss, while Assistant Manager Ha can’t keep his eyes off the bumbling newbie.
Later, in the staff kitchen, the two men argue over which woman was more attractive, then drag an awkward Baek Ki into the discussion. Belatedly, Baek Ki realizes he’s made a mistake after agreeing with Assistant Manager Ha, rather than his own supervisor. As Suk Yool explains his mistake to him, Baek Ki runs into Assistant Manager Ha and Young Yi. Assistant Manager Ha repeats his question of who was more attractive to Young Yi, who has obviously read the manual on sucking up to your boss, and tells Assistant Manager Ha that it was the cute newbie who she would like to model herself after.
That night, Suk Yool follows Assistant Manager Sung to a rendezvous at the Han River, with a camera and a telephoto lens in tow. Suk Yool is surprised by what he ends up capturing, and when he gets back to the office, he’s too bemused to notice Geu Rae at the elevator. When Geu Rae asks him what’s wrong, Suk Yool gives him some encouragement, and an awkward hug.
Back at the office, Sales Team 3 is completely caught off guard when they get a visit from headquarters, regarding a tip-off about the audio recording made by Geu Rae and Mr. Seok in China, which implied that the scale of commission for the agent on the China project was too large. As the executive director comes under attack from headquarters, Sang Sik is left in the uncomfortable position of defending the use of “connections” in business with China, by parroting the executive director’s words.
The executive director gets a visit from the president, who tells him to prepare for the worst. In the end, Geu Rae, Sang Sik, and the other employees can only watch as the executive director is demoted and moved to an affiliate company. Back at his desk, Sang Sik reminisces about happier times when he was working closely with the executive director, while the rest of Sales Team 3 cleans up the now-defunct China project; the company they were working with voided the contract in protest. In the end, though Sales Team 3 is not punished; everyone puts the blame on the inflexible Sang Sik. Geu Rae is convinced that the situation is his own fault, but Sang Sik explains that he’s the one who made everyone in the company, including Geu Rae, nervous about the connections to begin with. Sang Sik tries to encourage Geu Rae to have patience, but his words sound hollow.
And, in fact, when the Resource Team has a problem with a contract in China, they blame Sang Sik, even as the loyal Young Yi tries to fix the problem by herself. Sang Sik is blamed not only for the 0.5 billion dollar loss of the China solar panel project, but also losses related to all other China-related projects. Ji Young and the leader of Sales Team 2 take a miserable Sang Sik out for drinks to commiserate, while Geu Rae gets disconcertingly drunk with the other newbies.
Sang Sik meets for a coffee with the former executive director, who philosophically points out that the company needed an executive who was a giant, with his feet on the ground and his eyes on the stars. He thanks Sang Sik for not bringing up his suspicions about kickbacks on the contract. Sang Sik points out that he didn’t have evidence anyway, just as he didn’t in the case of Eun Ji (the dead contractor). As Sang Sik gets up to leave, the former executive director tells him how difficult it will be for Sang Sik to work at One International, having shaken the ground of every China-related project.
Back at the office, Sang Sik discovers the truth of this, as the team is unable to proceed with any business. In a meeting with the leader of the business team, Sang Sik is told that the company needs to make a show of firing him to appease their business partners in China, but that the company is held back by the fact that he wasn’t punished for any wrongdoing. When he tells this to Ji Young later on, she counsels him to wait and find a better solution, but Sang Sik already knows what he has to do; he’s just worried about Geu Rae.
When Sang Sik drunkenly goes home to his wife that night, he tells her that he’s going to quit. She reminds him that they have three kids, so he should wait until he gets his bonus, and then makes a list of things to buy before he loses his employee discount. She tells him she hates him, and Sang Sik laughs.
The next morning, Sang Sik comes to the office in a good mood, and runs into Young Yi, Suk Yool and Baek Ki at the elevator. They all smile as he teases them, unaware that Sang Sik is about to resign. Back at the office, Sang Sik drops off his resignation before the rest of his team get in, and by the time Geu Rae arrives, Sang Sik is packing up, with Mr. Chun and Dong Sik looking on.
Sang Sik takes a stricken Geu Rae aside to a meeting room, where he explains that he’s not dying, but just leaving the company. Sang Sik apologizes to Geu Rae for not being able to take care of him to the end, as Geu Rae looks on the verge of tears. Sang Sik goes on to tell Geu Rae to hang in there, and to win. Later, Sang Sik thanks Ji Young, then asks her to make sure to get a promotion so that she can hire Geu Rae. He repeats the same request to the leader of Sales Team 2.
Back at Sang Sik’s desk, all the newbies line up to say goodbye. Everyone tears up while Sang Sik drops his work slippers on Geu Rae’s desk on his way out. That night, Sang Sik goes drinking with Dong Sik, Mr. Chun, and Geu Rae. They reminisce about old times, and horse around, but when Dong Sik goes for a pee, he ends up outside, breaking down in tears instead.
As Sang Sik walks home, Geu Rae drunkenly follows him like a duckling. Sang Sik reminds him of his earlier injunction to hang in there, and to win, then sends Geu Rae home. Back at home, an exhausted Geu Rae finally cries his heart out, apologizing to the absent Sang Sik.
It was an emotional episode as we said goodbye to Sang Sik. While Sang Sik seem prepared for the prospect of leaving the company, it was everyone else who was in mourning. In the case of Geu Rae, who blamed himself, the loss of the father figure of his Sales Team 3 family was a huge blow.
In terms of context, though, I’m going to need some help. There was an air of an execution, as Sang Sik left the office, so a question: does Sang Sik quitting mean that his career as a trading man is over? Frankly, I’m not clear on the possibility of sideways moves between companies in Korea, or whether everyone has to enter through the same process at the lowest level. Given that Sang Sik is quitting at this age, does that mean he’s basically going to have to start a business to find employment? Or has he, at the very least, given up the possibility of working in a conglomerate again?
Surprisingly enough, this late in the game, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Onwards to the last episode!
As an apology for the lateness of this recap, here’s Assistant Managers Kang and Ha acting like they’ve never seen women before in their lives.