Side dish: If you’re in the Middle East, it’s essential to have some kanafeh, a fantastic dessert made from shredded filo pastry. Here’s a recipe from Saveur, which is nothing like how anyone in my family makes it, but whatever; the Middle East is a big place, and I don’t know everything.
Newbie contractor, Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan) is back in the One International office, feeling the absence of his former team leader, Oh Sang Sik (Lee Sung Min). Despite wanting to leave, Geu Rae hangs in there by remembering Sang Sik’s parting words to him.
When he goes to the staff kitchen to get coffee, Geu Rae is followed in by the other newbies, An Young Yi (Kang So Ra), Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul), and Han Suk Yool (Byun Yo Han), who designate Suk Yool to speak to him. Instead, Suk Yool quotes some poetry, and mistakenly brings up Sang Sik. Geu Rae goes back to the office, leaving the rest of them to wonder what they can do to help him, since his contract end date is approaching.
Back at Sales Team 3, the new team leader chews them out for trying to work the way they have been up to that point. He finishes off by pointing out that the next employee he hires will have proper specs, unlike Geu Rae, just as Geu Rae hands him the wrong kind of coffee. Geu Rae apologizes as the new team leader shouts, then looks up to find Baek Ki and Young Yi staring at him sadly.
Over at the Fibre Team, Suk Yool’s asshole supervisor, Assistant Manager Sung (Tae In Ho) chews him out for not processing the payment to Chungsol company. When Suk Yool points out that they’re missing a lot of documentation, Assistant Manager Sung insults his upbringing, and tells him to get on with it ASAP. Suk Yool clutches at an envelope of photos in his desk, and curses in frustration.
Members of the Steel Team, the Resource Team, Sales Team 1, the Fibre Team and Sales Team 3 are at a meeting with acting department head, Mr. Ma, working out some transitions. Mr. Ma spends much of the meeting bullying the Resource Team leader who defied him, as everyone else looks on helplessly.
As Young Yi wraps up a phone call in English, the dispirited Resource Team return from the meeting, complaining about Mr. Ma. When Dong Sik walks by, they bring up the unlikelihood of Geu Rae staying on as a permanent employee.
Young Yi goes to the staff lounge to reminisce about Geu Rae, and she’s followed there by a surprisingly understanding Assistant Manager Ha (Jun Suk Ho). He advises her to try starting a movement among the employees to convince the company to give Geu Rae a permanent position.
When Young Yi passes the idea on to Suk Yool and Baek Ki, they find some inspiration in the idea. Suk Yool posts Geu Rae’s story on the company intranet; Young Yi enlists Sales Team 1 leader, Sun Ji Young (Shin Eun Jung) who goes to the personnel managers to plead Geu Rae’s case; and Baek Ki compiles a performance evaluation of Geu Rae’s work for the Steel Team, which Assistant Manager Kang (Oh Min Suk) offers to look over. Alone in the office that night, the tears come down as Geu Rae reads Suk Yool’s impassioned words support on the intranet.
The next day, back at work, Ji Young comes to Sales Team 3 with the news that a new company directive has come down the pipeline, allowing competent contractors to become full-time employees. Geu Rae is cautious in his optimism, as Dong Sik and Mr. Chun agree to help out.
Sang Sik is spotted by his former executive director as he rides a delivery scooter in a suit. The executive director appears satisfied by this humiliating career downturn. When Sang Sik returns the scooter to the restaurant it comes from, the owner yells at him for being slow, since there’s a bunch of deliveries to do. Sang Sik goes for lunch, and he gets a phone call from Ji Young. Sang Sik appears a little disappointed that it is about Geu Rae’s transition to permanent employee, with Ji Young informing him that it’ll be discussed in a meeting soon.
The day of the meeting, the three other newbies fret for Geu Rae’s sake, since he’s too busy to do it. As Geu Rae runs around the company, everyone is positive, and Assistant Manager Kang even asks him out for a drink. But, when Geu Rae gets back to the office, it’s bad news from Ji Young, who doesn’t have to say anything as everyone gleans the news from her expression. Everyone in the office is stricken as Geu Rae tries to smile.
Geu Rae reminisces about his good times with Sales Team 3 and Sang Sik as he walks through the One International building, finally ending with the moment on the roof when Sang Sik told him to move towards a complete life.
Sang Sik is working! Not as a chicken delivery guy, but with former department head, Kim Boo Ryeon (Kim Jong Soo) in a small company, where they’re planning to export motorcycle helmets. Hence, why Sang Sik was driving around on a delivery scooter. It turns out the company belongs to Sang Sik and his sunbae, and they hired CEO Kim away from a One International subsidiary to help run it. CEO Kim orders Sang Sik to work on Mecca phone, while Sang Sik makes a pro forma protest.
Sang Sik checks his calendar, and sees that it’s milk day. He gets up to go visit clients, but first, takes a naggy phone call from his wife, which he seems to enjoy inordinately.
Suk Yool comes running in to the One International office to pick up some items, only to discover they’re still at the airport, close to where he just departed. The mixup is Assistant Manager Sung’s petty revenge, which continues when he tells Suk Yool to cancel his vacation for a sudden meeting. When Suk Yool protests, Assistant Manager Sung yells at him in front of the entire office.
Frustrated, Suk Yool grabs an envelope from his desk, and goes to the stairwell to look at what it contains. It turns out to be photographs of Assistant Manager Sung canoodling with a woman who works at Chungsol Company. Suk Yool writes his suspicions of Assistant Manager Sung’s double dealings with Chungsol on the envelope. He tries to put it first in the suggestion box, then on the desk of the team leader, but can’t bring himself to do it. Instead, Suk Yool calls his mom to tell her he can’t go on the family trip for his dad’s birthday, and burns the photos.
The next morning, the Fibre Team gets a visit from a man looking for Assistant Manager Sung. It turns out to be the husband of the woman from Chungsol company. The husband has a fit, alternating between smacking a terrified Assistant Manager Sung around, and showing everyone pictures of his misdeeds. The husband (a cameo from Oh Jung Se) demands back everything that his wife gave Assistant Manager Sung, including his watch, shoes, and car. When the team leader tries to intervene, the husband tells him to back off, since his wife hasn’t yet cheated on him.
When a bloodied and battered Assistant Manager Sung goes to hide in the stairwell, Suk Yool brings over his shoes and jacket, and tissues to wipe his face with. When Suk Yool asks him why he lives like this, Assistant Manager Sung criticizes his choice of tissue.
Back at the Steel Team, the team leader congratulates Baek Ki on his performance. His words are echoed by Assistant Manager Kang, who then asks him to revise an email in German. When Baek Ki points out it’s correct, he can’t resist adding a correction to Assistant Manager Kang’s earlier correction of his German pronunciation. Assistant Manager Kang looks less than impressed as he goes on about it, but Baek Ki enjoys his minor triumph.
Later, at lunch with Young Yi, Baek Ki can’t bring himself to eat a bowl of blood stew. Young Yi is surprised, since they’ve watched so many scary movies lately. Luckily, Baek Ki is saved by the arrival of Suk Yool, who takes the bowl from him, and eats with gusto. Having overheard the end of the conversation, Suk Yool asks when they went for a movie together, throwing them both into disarray, but he’s just wondering why he wasn’t included. Suk Yool complains about the lack of symmetry at the lunch table in the absence of Geu Rae.
Geu Rae, for his part, is at home, cleaning the floor while teaching himself English. His mom tells him about a job as a restaurant manager, but he’s not interested, since he’s studying and waiting for opportunities. He’s interrupted by a phone call from Young Yi, and he goes to meet her, Suk Yool, and Baek Ki at a restaurant. After some initial flirtation between Suk Yool and Geu Rae (I love these two), Baek Ki wonders why Sang Sik didn’t invite Geu Rae to join his company. Geu Rae is at a loss for words.
When Geu Rae walks home, drunk and singing, he finds Sang Sik at his doorstep. Sang Sik tells him that everything is ready, he can come join the company at any time.
Back at the One International office, Sales Team 3 is busy with their new intern, who is clearly not as good as Geu Rae. Later, on the roof, Dong Sik confesses to Mr. Chun that work isn’t fun anymore, and that he feels lonely.
At the new company, Geu Rae is hard at work, but notices that Sang Sik’s family photo is facing down. He puts it up, but Sang Sik puts it back down. When Geu Rae asks, Sang Sik explains that he can’t stand listening to his wife’s nagging all the time, so it’s only fine for once in a while. They’re interrupted by CEO Kim who asks how the search for an experienced worker is going. He, in turn, is interrupted by the arrival of Dong Sik, who has decided to become their experienced worker, and won’t take no for an answer. When CEO Kim can’t find room to join their group hug, he yells at them all to get back to work.
As the only remaining member of the Sales Team 3 family, Mr. Chun is understandably sad. Back at the office, he tries out the seat of the team leader on for size.
One year later, at the new office, Sang Sik gets a call from Mr. Chun, informing him that Seo Jin Sang (the guy who ripped the newbies off with Baekdusan deer honey earlier) has run off to Jordan with a shipment of cell phone cases, leaving them in the lurch. Since this is a life-or-death situation for the fledgling company, they send Geu Rae and his new hairdo (this is how you know time has passed) to sort it out.
At the airport, Sang Sik is so nervous that he calls Geu Rae with a list of travel instructions, but Geu Rae tells him he’s not a kid. And, indeed, he looks confident as he lands in Amman and meets with local One International contact, Mr. Cho. Mr. Cho hasn’t yet found Mr. Seo, but Geu Rae remembers an off-hand remark that Mr. Seo made earlier, and tells him to try hotels in the old districts.
When Mr. Cho asks after Sang Sik, we’re treated to the sight of Sang Sik driving around in the desert, doing some sightseeing to the soundtrack of Russian music. When Geu Rae calls to ask where he is, Sang Sik regales him with an explanation of why the Russian mafia have tattoos on their knees, and tells Geu Rae not to give up. He hangs up on a confused Geu Rae, but calls him back immediately afterwards, instructing him to meet in Petra in three hours.
Geu Rae arrives to find Sang Sik reciting poetry, and looking at the entrance to Petra. We are treated to a mini history lesson on Petra, as Sang Sik tells Geu Rae that Petra was once the gateway to the Asia trade routes, but ended up being forgotten for 1,000 years. He goes on to talk about his dream of travelling the world, and some philosophical rumination about hope, and how roads begin to exist when many men pass one way, even though the earth had no roads to begin with.
When it all goes over Geu Rae’s head, Sang Sik wonders why he didn’t bring Young Yi, since she would have gotten it right away.
And, we’re back at the beginning of the series, with Geu Rae walking the streets of Amman, in search of Mr. Seo. He’s called by Mr. Cho to the Cairo Hotel, where they find Seo Jin Sang, who takes off running. Geu Rae chases him all over the streets of Amman, even getting hit by a car, but finally pulls up when Mr. Seo jumps from a rooftop into a window in a neighbouring building. When Geu Rae follows him, leaping without hesitation, Mr. Seo runs out another window. After apologizing to the room’s occupants, Geu Rae jumps through himself. Finally, Mr. Seo hits a dead end as he almost falls off a roof, only to be saved by Geu Rae.
Mr. Seo refuses to tell them where the stolen items are, pretending that he knows nothing of what they’re talking about, even standing strong when they threaten him with jail. Instead, they kidnap him, and take him out to a tent in the desert at Wadi Rum, where Mr. Seo tries to make a break for it. He thinks better of it when he realizes that he’s alone in a desert, and returns to the tent. Mr. Seo still refuses to tell them where the samples are, citing the fact that he’s not Korean, nor does he work for their company. Without evidence to back up his threats, Geu Rae makes a call to Sang Sik, who tells him that a mafia-owned Russian company is also looking for Mr. Seo.
As cars drive up to the tent, and a voice can be heard yelling in Russian outside, Mr. Seo finally cracks and tells them it’s in a locker at the Amman airport. Of course, there are no Russians outside, only Sang Sik shouting loudly in Russian. When Mr. Cho compliments Geu Rae by calling him a true One International employee, Sang Sik bursts in, and takes issue with his words, since Geu Rae now works for his company.
Later, as they drive away, Sang Sik asks Geu Rae if he really misses One International. Geu Rae plays coy, and tells Sang Sik to captivate him, in a parallel to their first conversation together in a car. Instead of being moved, Sang Sik smacks him upside the head, and tells him to drive. Cocky Geu Rae is reduced to begging Sang Sik not to hit him while driving. They bicker as they drive off into the desert, and Geu Rae, in voiceover, talks about roads, and how they open when you tread on them.
As the credits roll, we see Geu Rae at his father’s funeral, and Sang Sik barrelling past him to get to Eun Ji’s (the dead contractor) funeral. You see? It was fate all along.
I have some quibbles with the ending, so I’ll start with that, then move on to the rest, which is mostly positive.
So, I had the feeling that neither Geu Rae nor Sang Sik were going to find their future at One International, but this ending was a bit deflating, what with the past few episodes of heartbreak, and worry over whether Geu Rae would be able to stay, and Sang Sik’s tear-filled departure. I’m also bothered by the time skip, taking us almost instantaneously from a teary Geu Rae failing at getting a position at One International to a strong and confident Geu Rae working at Sang Sik’s company. I would have liked to see more of that transition in the series, versus much of the moping we did get in the past few episodes.
My final quibble is the flashback over the credits where Sang Sik ran into Geu Rae at his dad’s funeral. Sure, it makes for some nice symbolism, and it ties things up neatly, but… I didn’t really need it. Driving off into the sunset is a pretty good ending, even without the epilogue.
All this is not to say that it wasn’t a good ending; more that it felt rushed in the context of the show. Regardless, I enjoyed it, as all of our newbies got some love. Young Yi gets friendly advice from Assistant Manager Ha, Assistant Manager Sung gets his comeuppance with no effort on Suk Yool’s part, and Baek Ki finally teaches Assistant Manager Kang something. It was sweet how everyone came together to try to save Geu Rae, and equally sweet to see them all as friends at the end. Here’s hoping we get to see a season two?
Anyway, both JK and I have much more to say in our series review, which is soon to come. In the meantime, here’s a bonus with Suk Yool and Geu Rae. I love these two together.
Anyone else notice that this show is pretty much all blue grey? I know I keep making that point, but it is so moody and I really admire directors who have a consistent vision for the look and feel of their shows.
Since you took off from vacation to write your recaps, I’ll take off from work to leave a reply. First, a first: for the first time, I understand the concept (or at least the justification) of blogging, thanks to you and your recaps. The outlet for commentary and exchange–got it, but more important, I think, is that blogging, done the way you do it at least, actually ASSISTS readers interested in the topic. Too obvious, I know, but I viewed it at as a much more narcissistic exercise up to now.
That will have to suffice as my paean to you and your recaps.
The ending did not yield a “perfect!” from me or others watching, I understand. But, it could have been worse and probably not much better all things considered. To the chagrin of those around me, I posed the question of how the ending might have been improved. Your desire for a return to the office, back to the grindstone development is line with what I came up with, which was to show some resolution of the China connection, maybe with the Poxing CEO visiting Korea to close a deal and Sang Sik somehow redeeming himself there.
But, the makers of this work no doubt had considered a variety of endings, and maybe there was even some internal debate or “go-min” for the decision makers. The meticulous quality shown throughout the entire series, to me at least, would suggest no less. Perhaps a flourish was what they felt was necessary to ensure a wider audience and thereby reassure sponsors? No offense intended.
The funeral home scene was unnecessary, agreed, but was probably even more irresistible to the editors than the action packed episode as a whole, since it bookended the actual story and also provided structure like other symmetrical scenes throughout the series. There was a lot of math required to track all the story lines and a q.e.d. seems excusable if not understandable.
Overall, the muted colors, the cinematic restraint and the meticulous storytelling lead me to give this series very high marks. It is among the best I’ve seen, and I enjoyed it a lot. Please let the next season, if there is one, meet this one’s standards.
Yeah the ending with the flashback was the only thing i didn’t like it, Misaeng was good enough (like Geu Rae and Mr. Oh’s bond) without relying on “faith” as every other drama.
This was an amazing drama overall, and my favorite of 2014, i really want a second season but i wonder how it would be without the other 3 newbies, i’ll miss suk yool, baek ki and young yi.
Thank for your recap!
I also hope that any second season will include the other newbies. Misaeng will be even more incomplete without Suk Yool.
Thanks for reading!