Every once in a while, we all could use a show that reminds us that sometimes it really is worth stepping out of our comfort zones, I think. This season, Designated Survivor: 60 Days is that show, for me.
Personally, I don’t have a strong interest in politics, and therefore, I’ve always thought that political shows wouldn’t be my thing, which is why I didn’t think to check out this show, when it first aired earlier this year. But, because I recently really enjoyed Son Seok Koo in Be Melodramatic, and also because I do have a soft spot for Ji Jin Hee, I decided to try this one, just to see, and – I’m kinda shocked, actually, by how much I liked it. Talk about a drama tilting your world, eh?
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
STUFF I LIKED
Show is accessible, emotionally engaging and well-paced
Given that political stories are the kind of things that I never imagined myself getting into, I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely intrigued episode 1 left me, and then happily shocked at how much I liked this show, by episode 2. In fact, this quickly rose to the top of the batch of dramas I was watching at the time; this was the show that I most looked forward to another episode of. Woah, right?
The main threads
On the one hand, there’s the on-going investigation that tries to uncover the truth behind the bombing, which Show mostly manages with a tight hand. Our agents learn new information steadily, but it’s always in fragments, and the mystery behind what it all means, is one hook of this tale.
At the same time, there’s the whole question of how our shocked, blindsided new Acting President is going to survive this, and make his own mark on the world. It’s immediately apparent that Park Moo Jin (Ji Hin Hee) is not politically savvy; he’s genuinely interested in making the world a better place for the people who live in it; he sincerely wants to do the honest and right thing. We also see that oftentimes, the people around him do not agree with his way of doing things. Based on that alone, I felt that it would be interesting to see what kind of President he becomes, now that the role is thrust upon him.
I do have to credit Show with making all the politics and accompanying politicking accessible to even a political noob like me.
In some ways, this story gave me a few sageuk vibes. [SPOILERS] The different parties fighting for political power; the idea of soldiers dying in vain for a country that doesn’t know or care, and the possible revenge thread that comes out of that; ruthless measures being taken to silence people; people getting killed before they are able to give any information; people getting threatened into making false confessions of murder. It all smells somewhat like a sageuk. [END SPOILERS]
And since I’ve had a fair amount of experience with sageuks, this helped me feel like I was kinda-sorta on familiar ground.
I have to give it to Show, generally speaking, this story feels strong and well-paced. Our narrative gets time to ebb and flow, and we do get time to breathe in between more exciting portions of the plot, and Show knows how to keep my attention, through it all.
[SPOILER] In episode 3, the daunting task before Moo Jin becoming more faceted and full of hidden consequences than he’d anticipated; the sometimes surprising opposition he faces for wanting to do the thing that his conscience tells him is right; the overwhelming amount of disparate information being thrown at him from all sides; the shifting realization that underneath all the political talk about policy, are real people with real fears. [END SPOILER]
It all comes together to be compelling and engaging, and even rather educational, all at once.
As a bonus, I thought the music for this show was well-selected and applied. It’s dramatic and orchestral, and adds a nice flavor of dramatic tension to scenes. I liked that.
It’s emotionally engaging
The biggest thing for me, is that Show makes this watch an emotional experience, rather than a purely cerebral one.
Show invests a good amount of its breathing time in building the more emotional sides of its story, which I feel serves the narrative well, because this helps to round out our characters, and makes me care more, when the action and danger amps up again. I even teared up a couple of times during my watch, which I’d never expected, coming into this watch.
Show knows how to weave a well-paced, tight story, and make it not only interesting, but stirring as well, and that, altogether, just sucked me in.
Ji Jin Hee as Park Moo Jin
To me, Park Moo Jin’s journey as Acting President forms the cornerstone of this story; I was most invested in his story, and how he would stay true to himself and his values, in the face of a multitude of problems and obstacles, that placed him smack between a rock and hard place.
If Moo Jin’s experience as Acting President was a rollercoaster, following him on that journey and witnessing his growth and increasing confidence was a similar rollercoaster of a journey, and I loved it.
I truly enjoyed Ji Jin Hee’s delivery of Moo Jin, from his geeky scientist moments, all the way to how he grows into the presidential shoes that have been thrust on him, and every shade of emotion in between. My heart couldn’t help but go out to Moo Jin, as he struggled to figure out how to do the right thing, and every time he did well, my heart surged with how gratifying it was.
Here’s a (very) sprawling look at a good number of key Moo Jin moments.
E2. I kind of guessed that Moo Jin would be proven right and that the submarine had sunk and all would be ok, but I was glued to my screen and on the edge of my seat anyway. The aggressive military men were annoying, but I could appreciate just how much mental noise Moo Jin was dealing with, within his first few hours as Acting President. To have such high stakes is bad enough, but to face those high stakes while everyone is barking at you and at one another, is just so much worse. And to have everyone around you doubting you, even worse.
So when Moo Jin survives it, and is proven right, victorious in his humaneness, my heart surged for him, and I felt it so much, when he couldn’t even stop his legs from shaking, in the aftermath. He’s been through so much, and I’m so happy that his geekiness and smarts stood him in good stead when everyone else was using all their time and energy arguing about how best to bomb North Korea. I’m rooting for Moo Jin so hard and so earnestly now. And I expect that he will continue to win supporters over to his side, just as he’s won me over, over the course of just 2 episodes.
E3. Moo Jin is doing his best not to be a puppet president; working to speak from the heart rather than blindly reading off prepared speeches, spending time studying the Constitution rather than be pulled in a million different directions by people with different agendas. He’s not always successful, but he’s valiantly keeping on, even when there are missteps, and I have to admire how focused he is, on revoking the discriminatory act against the North Korean defectors, even to the point of accepting Chief Secretary Han’s (Heo Joon Ho) dare, to fire him, if he wishes to proceed.
I’m not the only one moved by Moo Jin’s actions, as we see from Kim Nam Wook’s (Lee Moo Saeng) briefing to the press. He literally has to blink back tears, as he speaks of Moo Jin’s passing of the executive order. This, from the first guy we met from the Blue House, who had spoken so disparagingly about Moo Jin’s future as Acting President. I’d say this is progress.
I have to admire Moo Jin for going all in now, and taking personal and family risk, to pass the executive order, even though his desire is to return to his civilian life after the 60 days are up. He isn’t one to half-ass things, that’s becoming clear.
E4. It’s gratifying to see Moo Jin grow into his authority, and gain confidence when facing all the naysayers in his government, the aggressive loudmouthed military men in particular. I like seeing him have the confidence to put his foot down and be firm, even when his is the unpopular opinion. That’s him standing by his decisions, and that takes courage and a measure of faith, especially since he’s the one with the least experience and qualifications in the room. But he’s cool-headed, rational and logical, while keeping compassion and empathy for the citizens a priority, and that’s a rare and precious combination indeed.
E4. I like Moo Jin’s enquiring mind, which is totally befitting of the scientist side of him. When everyone around him is freaking out about the video being North Korea’s admission of involvement in the bombing, Moo Jin’s calm, analytical mind is able to pinpoint a key question: if North Korea has always vehemently denied all involvement in all attacks, what makes this different, and why? I like it.
E5. I can understand Moo Jin’s choice during the TV interview. Up to this point, he’s been articulating how honesty is his political policy. Now, if he chooses to lie in order to protect himself, he instantly proves that honesty isn’t actually his policy; it’s only his policy when he can afford it. So he chooses honesty, even though the fallout is obviously going to be huge.
E5. General Lee (Choi Jae Sung) was really getting out of hand, defying Moo Jin’s orders and even questioning him to his face, about whether he still feels like he has the right to be Commander-in-Chief. So when General Lee taunts Moo Jin that he should use his power and authority without hesitation, it’s gratifying to see Moo Jin take control of the situation by revoking General Lee of his military authority, and relieving General Lee of his duties, and informing everyone else present that the same fate awaits anyone who mobilizes the military forces without his express permission. Well done, sir.
E6. I really appreciate that we see Moo Jin staying up late and worrying about the soldiers he’s sent to Cambodia, that he’s sent them on a dangerous mission, while they have families worrying for them. His empathy and compassion and worry are so palpable, and I feel for him, even as I appreciate his humanity. I do love that his wife (Kim Gyu Ri) is so understanding and supportive, and I love how gentle she is, as she assures him that he only made a needed decision.
E6. The operation itself was hard to watch, because it felt so taut and tension-filled. I felt like my nerves were stretched really thin. The hardest thing, though, was seeing Moo Jin’s grief at Major Jang’s (Park Hoon) death. I can understand his guilt; he’d charged Major Jang to bring back Myung Hae Joon alive, and to bring his men back safely. He hadn’t specifically said to Major Jang to come back safely himself, although that is implied. In his shoes, I would feel guilty too, for not having articulated that; for sending him on a dangerous mission; for ultimately being responsible for the operation happening at all, which had then led to Major Jang’s death.
Moo Jin’s grief, as he stands over Major Jang’s casket, is crippling, and I feel so much, in the moment. I feel sorry for Major Jang, for having lost his life while carrying out his duties, and I feel sorry for Moo Jin, who’s carrying the weight of the guilt of Major Jang’s death on his shoulders. Moo Jin choking out his tears is truly hard to watch, and I can fully understand why he would go straight to Secretary Han’s residence, and ask him just why he’d put him in this position, to take people’s lives.
In the face of Moo Jin’s deep grief and distress, I do appreciate Secretary Han’s response. He’s firm and measured, and the words he speaks are wise and balanced, “It’s not your fault. He simply did all he could to fulfill his duties. He didn’t run away. He handled it. Just like you, who didn’t return to school that day. And this is the same. President Park. Whether it’s sorrow, guilt, or anger, today is one of those days when you must fulfill your duties without running away or making excuses. That is what all the survivors must do.”
I love how his words don’t diminish the tragedy of Major Jang’s death, but at the same time, maintains a full measure of respect for Major Jang as he gave his all to fulfill his duty. His words imply that Major Jang knew full well what he was doing, and made the decision because he felt it was the most needed. There’s something very dignified about that. And in the same vein, Secretary Han’s words attribute the same dignity to the decision that Moo Jin has made, to not run away and do his duty. So much wisdom that comforts, respects and affirms, all in one.
E6. I love how Moo Jin is not ashamed to ask Secretary Han to come back. His request is so heartfelt; there’s no guile about it. He doesn’t try to mask his need for Secretary Han, or downplay it in any way. He’s open and vulnerable in the moment, “On that day, I told you that I wasn’t qualified I told you that neither power nor politics suited me. And yet, you brought me this far. So take responsibility. Help me so that I can handle this position. Please. Will you return… to the Blue House?” It’s truly one of my favorite things about Moo Jin. He’s sincere and willing to be vulnerable.
E7. Secretary Han’s conversation with Secretary Cha (Son Seok Koo) tells me one thing, that Moo Jin is very astute in reading him. He didn’t approach Secretary Han to return while citing things like the Presidential Election; he’d challenged him to finish what he started. Secretary Han had no interest in starting again, calling it all a “meaningless fight” – but he came back to fulfill that sense of responsibility that Moo Jin confronted him with.
E7. I didn’t see it coming, that Chief An (Lee Do Yup) was the mole leaking information to Mayor Kang (Ahn Nae Sang). And I’m impressed with Moo Jin for how he handles it. Instead of firing Chief An right away, he initially tries to convince Chief An with his newly acquired research, without even mentioning the information leak. It’s only when that fails, that he reveals the recording. And then instead of firing Chief An, he allows Chief An to make things right with Mayor Kang, before telling him that he can now proceed to demonstrate what he’s really made of. That’s mercy, and that’s grace.
E9. This episode it was mostly about Moo Jin’s scandal, which turns out to be not quite a scandal after all. The flashback to how Moo Jin had opened his heart to Kang Yeon and Si Wan (Nam Woo Hyun), even right after he found out she was a divorcee, and then how he subsequently cared for Si Wan like his own son, is very touching. That moment in the hospital, when the doc asked him to hold his son, you can just see the realization hit him like a ton of bricks – he could actually be Si Wan’s father. Aw. Moo Jin really is a decent, good man.
I appreciate how fiercely he protects Si Wan, even when his own reputation is at stake. And I’m glad that Si Wan appreciates it too, and comes around quite noticeably, from his anti-Dad rebellion.
E10. Moo Jin’s heart and humanity is never far from the surface. At the report of the death of Joon Oh (Lee Ha Yool), one of his first thoughts is what a sacrifice Joon Oh has made for the country, and how sorry he is, that he can’t even send condolences to the family, because Joon Oh is already legally dead. His request, that Joon Oh’s funeral be as formal as possible, is the only thing he can think of to do, and it’s clear from his expression that he feels this is far from adequate.
E11. It’s hard to watch Moo Jin struggling from pain while lying in hospital. His labored breathing while he ekes out the words that he wants to speak makes my heart pinch for him. He’s really dedicated to his country, even though he’s wounded and in pain, and there’s a measure of threat, to his life.
Also, it’s moving to see how the people around him have come to care for him. His protocol administrator (Park Geun Rok) having to stop to cry for a bit, out of worry for Moo Jin, says a lot about how much he’s affected the people around him. Even Assemblywoman Yoon (Bae Jong Ok) pauses to let him know that despite his unmarketability as politician, she trusts him, and wishes him a successful surgery. I found that quite touching. And then there’s Kim Nam Wook’s heartfelt statement before the press, that he wishes Moo Jin well. I do love that everyone’s coming around to appreciate Moo Jin’s goodness and decency.
The relationship between Moo Jin and Kang Yeon
Even though Moo Jin’s relationship with his wife Kang Yeon is mostly kept on the sidelines, I genuinely loved their marriage relationship for its healthy and supportive dynamics. It’s true that Moo Jin’s new schedule means that he spends a lot less time with his family, but when he does have time to spend with Kang Yeon, they always spend the time in meaningful conversation.
It’s clear to see that even though we see very little of Kang Yeon in the overall scheme of things, that she truly is a pillar of support – and a source of timely wisdom – to Moo Jin, and that he could’ve never made it through his term without her.
So much love for this couple, even though we don’t see them much together at all.
Here are just a few highlights, of this sweet couple.
E5. I also appreciate the small detail, where we see Moo Jin’s wife silently show him support as they appear in public for the memorial service. The handhold and the steady, solemn exchange of gazes; he knows that she’s right there on his side, and I like that a lot.
E7. I really love how strong the marital relationship is, between Moo Jin and Kang Yeon. He’s terse and snappish with her when he comes home, with the non-party cabinet dilemma on his mind, but she doesn’t react with hostility in return. She asks what’s happened instead; she knows her husband well enough to know that he wouldn’t normally behave like this. And it isn’t long before they’re sitting hand in hand, he having confided in her, and she promising to help him decide, if he’ll tell her what he really wants. And then she stays up all night researching the Constitution for him, so that he’ll have fresh ammunition the next day. Seriously, this is relationship goals.
Na Kyung is given room to be strong
In a male-dominated cast set in a male-dominated world, I thought it was important to mention that Show is gives Agent Han Na Kyung (Kang Han Na) a lot of space to be a strong, badass woman, even while acknowledging her difficult emotional circumstances.
[SPOILER] I can’t imagine being in Na Kyung’s position, to be on the brink of marrying your fiance, only to lose him to a bomb attack, and then, without any time to really figure out anything or grieve, just plow straight into investigation mode, because that’s her job. The emotional toll on her must be huge, so it’s a cathartic moment, in episode 5, to see her cry over the wedding album that’s been delivered to her home, all these days that she’s been holed up at work trying to solve the question of who bombed the National Assembly Building.
Even when she’s lost her fiance to the terror attack, she’s not written to crumple and collapse; no, she gathers herself up and investigates with a vengeance. And she runs down suspects, and kicks them around, even as she gets kicked around; she’s allowed to go into dangerous situations alone, and she’s appointed to lead the investigation by the Acting President.
No one said, hey, this is too dangerous for a woman, let a man lead the way. No, she continues to lead the investigation, and when she wakes up bound and gagged in a car with a ticking bomb in it, she frees herself, and then, to save innocent passers-by from danger, drives the car to explode in the river. Bad. Ass. Even when there are other agents supporting the operation, and she doesn’t have to operate on her own, she’s still out in front, leading the way. I like it. [END SPOILER]
Son Seok Koo as Secretary Cha
Son Seok Koo is pretty darn great as Secretary Cha, and I found Secretary Cha’s personal journey very gratifying to watch. From someone whose prime concern is how to best navigate the political game for the best approval ratings and the most advantageous outcomes, Secretary Cha’s heart comes to the forefront in a way that I’m sure even he didn’t expect. The fact that Secretary Cha’s transformation had everything to do with his being continually in Moo Jin’s orbit, just made it even more satisfying.
Here are my favorite Secretary Cha moments, during my watch.
E5. Secretary Cha really is good at what he does. Even though he doesn’t seek permission first, his strategy works flawlessly. Not only does it suddenly diminish Moo Jin’s dismissal in the public’s eyes, it harnesses the public’s fear to Moo Jin’s advantage, just like Assemblywoman Yoon had mentioned in episode 4. It’s clear on hindsight that this was the fastest and most efficient way to solve the fallout from the interview, and Moo Jin sees it too. I approve Moo Jin’s decision to appoint Secretary Cha as Chief Secretary.
E8. Secretary Cha’s outburst in front of Secretary Jung feels so raw, so deep and so personal. I’m a little taken aback at how strongly he feels about President Yang (Kim Gab Soo), and how regretful he is at how he’d missed the chance to help him leave a more dignified legacy.
E9. As much as this is a journey for Moo Jin, it’s also a journey for Secretary Cha. As Secretary Han rightly points out, Secretary Cha needs to come around to the person, instead of fixating on the approval ratings.
E11. Secretary Cha’s emotional outburst in response to Secretary Jung questioning his loyalties, also says a lot about how Moo Jin has affected him. This isn’t just business, anymore. He sincerely wants Moo Jin back.
E12. It’s telling, that after being cleared of any suspicion during the investigation, Secretary Cha’s main concern is whether Moo Jin believed the allegations to be true. Na Kyung’s indirect answer, stating that if Moo Jin had believed it to be true, that Secretary Cha would have been relieved of his duties first, hits Secretary Cha in the heart. He stops for a brief moment to process the thought, and only the slight tug at his lips hint at his comfort and pleasure, at the answer.
E12. Secretary Cha turning in his resignation because he didn’t want to be a burden to Moo Jin, with all the media speculation about him being investigated in relation to the bombing, says a lot about how much his loyalties have rooted themselves with Moo Jin. And that moment during the press conference, when Moo Jin finally announces his decision to run for president, the look on Secretary Cha’s face is just so intense. He’s choked up with emotion, there’s relief in his eyes, a tug at his lips as he can’t decide whether to smile or cry; it’s a dramatic, tense, acutely personal moment for him, and I love it.
The lashings of a loveline between Secretary Cha and Secretary Jung
The “some” flirtation and sparks between Secretary Cha and Secretary Jung (Choi Yoon Young) are super cute, and a very welcome respite from the dramatic tension, with their goofy-awkward bickering turning into date invitations and dorky grins. I can see why everyone who was watching this show shipped these two, so hard. They are adorable.
[SPOILER] I liked the moment when (now-Chief) Secretary Cha asks Secretary Jung whether she’d like to get some chimaek with him. It’s so typical of their awkward-funny banter. He looks so self-conscious as he tries to (quite lamely) explain that since they hadn’t had dinner, that that’s why he thought he’d ask. To me, it feels like his attempt at a gracious and appreciative response, after Secretary Jung stalks back into his new office to finish what she’d been trying to say earlier, that yes, she would have resisted the idea of leaking the video, but that she would have come around if he’d told her his reasons, because he’s that good at what he does.
I love this rather awkward moment of mutual acknowledgement, and I love even more, how Secretary Jung turns him down, saying that she’s not mature enough to buy him a celebratory drink, nor does she like the idea of him buying her a consolation drink, heh. [END SPOILER]
The ensemble of the Blue House staff
Shout-out to the staff at the Blue House; I found myself growing fond of them over the course of my watch.
In particular, I enjoyed Protocol Administrator Park for his dorky, earnest ways, Acting Press Secretary Kim Nam Wook for his often bemused reactions, which alternated with his heartfelt wonderment at some of Moo Jin’s decisions, and Presidential Secretary Min (Baek Hyun Joo) for her dry and shrewd commentary and insights.
I felt rather sorry to say goodbye to this bunch, by the time I got to the finale.
STUFF THAT WAS NEUTRAL
Generally speaking, I thought the writing in this show was solid, but I also came to the conclusion that the writing is stronger in the beginning of our story, than in the later stretch.
In Show’s earlier stretch, the writing felt confident and tight, and I felt like Show knew exactly where it wanted to go, and I felt like I could trust it to take me there. Show effectively kept me on the edge of my seat, and made my watch experience feel both thrilling, yet emotionally satisfying. All very good things.
However, in Show’s later episodes, I started to notice a couple of weak spots in the writing, and also, I started to notice a distinct pattern in the way Moo Jin’s strength of character is showcased.
In terms of writing weak spots, I have a couple more which I’ll mention in other sections, but the incident in episode 8, where Han Mo (Kim Joo Hun) confesses to the murder he didn’t commit, made me wonder why no one in our drama world thinks to ask if he’s being threatened. I mean, that was my first thought, (likely a result of my sageuk exposure, since that’s totally a sageuk type of event), but all the trained, experienced agents, investigators and other respected figures in the Blue House, didn’t think to ask it. I thought that was odd and unrealistic.
I suppose it’s to Show’s credit that it’s only pretty late in the game, that the plotting and storytelling pattern becomes more concrete and apparent. Consistently, we see Moo Jin come up against an obstacle, and Show cuts away to the unfolding of the related events, allowing tension to build, and then, at the last moment, it’s revealed that a critical soundbite and portion of conversation took place which we didn’t have access to before, where Moo Jin’s warmth and humanity gets through to the other party, which then results in a win for Moo Jin, at the end.
We see it twice in episode 15, once with General Lee, and then again, with Assemblywoman Yoon. I don’t dislike it, but we’ve seen key events pan out in similar ways a number of times now, and it’s starting to feel, well, predictable. Still, until Show does the reveal, the suspense is effective. The question of whether or not things will go as expected, hangs in the air until Show unveils the hidden scene. So it’s effective. Just, kind of predictable in hindsight, which is unfortunate.
Lee Joon Hyuk as Oh Young Seok
I put the character of Oh Young Seok in this section because while Oh Young Seok is an effective character that brings needed dramatic tension to our story, and Lee Joon Hyuk’s delivery of his character is solid, I didn’t exactly enjoy Oh Young Seok as a character.
[SPOILER] I found Oh Young Seok an intriguing character. On the one hand, he seems shady and nefarious, being involved in a scheme where he aims to take the position of President of Korea, at any cost. And when he does get to be Acting President at the episode 11 mark, it’s hard to watch as he asserts himself and makes decisions that mask questionable motives.
Lee Joon Hyuk does a great job of imbuing Oh Young Seok with just enough tamped down smirk to make me dislike him, while wearing the most reasonable and righteous expression, to defend his stand. I mean, not just keeping the stock market open, but to shoot to kill the sniper? That’s obviously to stop the investigation in its tracks to protect himself, rather than to protect the investigators.
Yet, there are moments when it seems that Oh Young Seok might have positive intentions, underneath it all. In episode 6, his hint to Moo Jin about how to resolve the stalemate with the Cambodian government is intriguing. When Moo Jin asks why he’s helping, Oh Young Seok replies that he has pledged to serve the nation.
How interesting, and contrary, and intriguing. [END SPOILER]
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Sometimes – just sometimes – I felt a touch of caricature
While I generally found Show’s characterization well done, I have to admit that I felt a touch of caricature, in spots.
1. Don’t military men obey authority unequivocally? General Lee and General Eun (Lee Ki Young) getting all shouty in front of the Acting President seems like a rather dodgy thing? Also, General Lee deciding to prepare troops to depart for Cambodia, against Moo Jin’s orders, is also going against his military code of conduct. I found this extreme, unreasonable behavior rather caricature-y.
2. I don’t know if Show gives us an accurate portrayal of press conferences, but I felt consistently frustrated and annoyed at how the reporters behave in each of the press conferences. They shout out question after question, and seem intent on drowning out the person they’re firing questions at. They come across as so aggressive and ill-mannered, seriously. That felt rather caricature-y, too, to my eyes.
THEMES / IDEAS
E3. The idea of a double-edged sword, dressed as something helpful. I don’t know how accurate the depiction of policy is, in our show, but the consideration of hidden agenda underneath a seemingly helpful piece of advice, is a lesson that I feel I need to chew on. Assemblywoman Yoon’s tip to Moo Jin on how to handle Mayor Kang seemed innocent and well-meaning, but underneath it lay a double-pronged intention to destroy; one, to destroy Mayor Kang’s reputation, and two, to put the idea of Moo Jin’s impeachment in the spotlight. How disturbingly dark, yet.. quite masterful.
E13. The idea of how truth can be twisted. The way that Moo Jin’s stand can be twisted either way to create a salacious headline, really makes me think about media manipulation and spin doctoring. The reporters are making Moo Jin’s stand regarding same-sex relationships a damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t thing. He just can’t win, the way they’re going about it.
SPOTLIGHT ON EPISODE 14 [SPOILERS]
We get another weak spot in the writing. Why would they wait this long to do a handwriting analysis on the dying message? Wouldn’t that be one of the first things to do, when they first tried to decipher the message? That feels like a red herring, deliberately put in there to keep our investigators on the wrong path until the right time.
But, I’m impressed with the fact that the writing is closing in on wrapping up our story, in a way that feels planned for and tight. With just 3 episodes to go, and about half the time left of Moo Jin’s current term, it felt like a big ask, for Show to even begin to wrap things up in a way that felt cohesive and satisfying. But that’s exactly what I feel like Show is doing. A lot happens this episode, and things are falling into place where it does look like we’re about to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t feel rushed, stuff doesn’t feel shoehorned in, and yes, it does feel cohesive. Plus, this episode literally is Show’s most fast-paced and exciting. I’m impressed.
There were some good twists and reveals this episode, which I liked. The fact that General Eun knew that he was being bugged, and basically led Na Kyung’s investigation to the tailor shop, so that she would be able to corner Oh Young Seok, so that Oh Young Seok would have a reason to accept General Eun’s offer. That was pretty twisty, which I liked.
And then there’s Han Moo, doing his own investigation and unearthing important information, which is important to Na Kyung’s investigation. In that sense, that was a bit of a twist that added ammunition to our good guys, even when the investigation that we’ve been privy to, has run into issues.
We are reminded that Moo Jin is sympathetic because we can see that he doesn’t have all the answers, and he’s not perfect, either. Even when he means well, like when he decides to defer the passing of the Discrimination Act until the next administration, he ends up disappointing Director Noh (Seo Young Hwa) and others like her. Which makes him realize that he’s essentially doing the same thing that his predecessor President Yang had done.
And then we have the final twist, of Oh Young Seok being gunned down, not by investigators, but by his own assistant, who makes the decision that Oh Young Seok needs to die a hero, and so shoots him in an honor killing, before killing himself. Dang.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
I found our penultimate episode pretty solid, even though there are questions thrown up that we ultimately don’t get answers to.
Moo Jin’s ability to read General Lee and understand his priorities – that the honor of the military as a whole is more important than his personal honor – demonstrates that he’s very sharp, and very shrewd, even amidst his warmth and desire to believe in people. He has the ability to understand people and what motivates them. On top of that, he has the ability to share his observations in a way that communicates respect and honor. At Moo Jin’s description of him, General Lee seemed visibly moved, that someone had seen him, and so clearly too.
The scene of Moo Jin and General Lee after the arrests have been made, where General Lee reports to Moo Jin as Commander-in-Chief, and they salute each other, then shake hands, all with tears burgeoning in their eyes, is most moving. So much mutual regard and respect, communicated in that moment. I love it.
I’m not surprised that Tailor Kim (Jeon Park Chan) is the hidden VIP, but I’m curious as to who he was speaking to, when it sounded like he was carrying out someone else’s orders, and I also want to know what his true connection to Assemblywoman Yoon is. Also, Assemblywoman Yoon did not mention anything about having met him before, when Moo Jin shared the photos of Tailor Kim as a key suspect. That’s suspicious, to me.
Even if I want to rationalize that she’d met him as one of many constituents, and because she meets so many new people all the time, that she didn’t remember him, it still doesn’t explain how she knew his name right away at the sight of the photos, and made that call to him right away, like she was already familiar with him, and there was the thing where she asked, “Is this your way of saying you’ll expose me?” Importantly, Show never addresses this, which I’m disappointed by.
One of the most moving moments this episode, is when Secretary Han talks with Moo Jin about the issue of whether or not he will join Moo Jin’s presidential campaign. Secretary Han has so many reservations about putting his faith on the line again, to believe again, in the hope of a better country and government, when he’d allowed that hope to die with President Yang. And yet, it’s Moo Jin’s keen observation and warm articulation of the fact that Secretary Han hasn’t turned into a monster like he warns Moo Jin about, that seems to hit him right in the heart. It seems like in this moment, Secretary Han finally feels the spark of hope and courage that he needs, to believe again. And when Secretary Han makes it clear that he will help Moo Jin, when Moo Jin smiles at him with gladness and gratitude, there’s a sense of peace and liberation in Secretary Han’s face, which is heartening to see.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I’m reluctant to admit it, but I have to say that I feel somewhat underwhelmed by Show’s finale.
After so many episodes of dramatic tension pivoting on the hope of seeing Moo Jin prove all the naysayers wrong and then growing into the role of the President of Korea, I felt rather disappointed that in the end, Moo Jin bows out of the presidential race. Granted, his reasons for doing so were valid, and given the circumstances, I concede that Moo Jin stayed true to his character, in choosing to do the right thing, instead of the thing that would bring him the most advantage.
However, I do have trouble accepting the reveal, that Secretary Han was the Big Bad. I mean, Show expects me to buy his explanation, that he plotted to kill President Yang, whom he deeply believed in, and wipe out the entire administration, because he was convinced that the people of Korea didn’t deserve a good president like President Yang? That’s.. messed up, and more than that, reallly far-fetched. One would have to be a sociopath &/or a psychopath to genuinely believe that train of thought and maintain that they did the right thing.
Additionally, if Secretary Han genuinely believed that the plan that he’d had, had been the better way, I feel like it doesn’t mesh so well, with his decision to join Moo Jin’s campaign. And, Secretary Han did appear to feel sincerely positive and excited at the prospect of supporting Moo Jin on his campaign, right until Moo Jin asked to speak with him privately.
In principle, I’m not against the idea of writing Secretary Han as the mastermind of the bombing, but these little details in the execution niggle at me. And, while I’m not about to rewatch this show to check Secretary Han’s behavior through the various stages of our story, I feel like Secretary Han is shown in a reasonable and humane light, even though his opinions sometimes differed from Moo Jin’s. I don’t know. I just find it hard to believe that he would have ordered Moo Jin’s (ultimately failed) assassination, y’know?
And then there’s the thing where we see Tae Ik (otherwise known as Lee Gyeong Pyo) leaving the country, while reporting to someone in Japanese. Could he be talking to the VIP? If so.. does this mean that possibly, Secretary Han is but a mole taking the fall for the real VIP, who is the mysterious person on the phone? We can only guess.
Anyway. That’s how we find out that Moo Jin had been selected to be the Acting President, the titular designated survivor, chosen for his lack of political experience and ambition, so that it would be easy to replace him, come the presidential elections.
Show doesn’t reveal who wins the election in the end, but we do see Moo Jin’s heartfelt farewell with the staff of the Blue House. The wistfulness is mutual, and there are visible tears in the eyes of more than a few individuals, as Moo Jin thanks each person one by one. Sniffle. I wish he didn’t have to say goodbye, coz it’s clear that they’ve all come to appreciate and respect him.
Time skip later, we see that Moo Jin’s gone back to teaching, and is now able to spend quality time with his family. We also see that he has something on his mind, as even an offer from Stanford makes him hesitate. At the same time, we also see that the key members of Moo Jin’s staff at the Blue House, are all unhappy in their current positions (I don’t quite get this, did they all resign from the Blue House after Moo Jin’s departure, coz I’d expected that they’d have continued in their roles otherwise?).
Secretary Cha gathers Secretary Jung, Press Secretary Kim Nam Wook and Protocol Administrator Park, and together, they seek out Moo Jin, and ask if he’d consider joining the next presidential race; that they will help him, together. Moo Jin smiles in response – which is when Show’s final credits roll.
Guh. I have to admit, I’m rather disappointed that we don’t even get to see if Moo Jin agrees or not, to the proposal of this adorkable ragtag group that just wants to support him. I mean, I geddit, the ending is designed with a possible sequel in mind. But if that’s the case, then at least give us a little something to go on? I’m a little peeved by this, no lie.
Still, I have to admit that despite my personal sense of dissatisfaction with how the finale was handled, that I truly enjoyed sharing in Moo Jin’s journey as Acting President. And honestly, if Show manages a comeback via a sequel, I’m so there, to share in Moo Jin’s journey towards President, too.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Show leans idealistic and is unrealistic in spots, but is uplifting and stirring, nonetheless.
FINAL GRADE: B+