Yay for some comedy up in here. It’s thankfully a better second outing, with more funny and a direct pass to some spy hijinks. The show is still uneven in tone, especially when it tries to be serious (it mostly elicits unintentional laughter when it tries to be dark), but a show willing to make its hero look like a complete buffoon earns a whole lot of forgiveness in other arenas.
Level 7 Civil Servant quickly turned the tables in the ratings game, taking first place with its second episode at 14.5%. Jeon Woo-chi came in with 13.4%, and The Great Seer brought in the rear with 9.0%.
SONG OF THE DAY
“The Path to You” by Junho, Level 7 Civil Servant OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Both Kyung-ja and Pil-hoon come out of their National Intelligence Service interviews at the exact same time, and Pil-hoon’s eyes fire up with revengey thoughts over his car.
Kyung-ja freaks out and does the first thing she can think of, and shoots back into the room she came from. Uh… a room full of NIS agents can’t possibly be less frightening than a guy you had a terrible date with once. Or twice.
The scary interviewer, agent Jang Young-soon, tells her that her interview is over and to get the hell out. Kyung-ja thinks quickly and sits back down in the chair to say that she lied earlier and wants a second chance.
They say no, but she barrels through anyway, repeating her canned response about “for love of country,” only this time she adds that the person who originally wrote those words said once that his country never truly stirred him.
She admits that she’s never once been stirred by a love of her country, but her dream is to someday help make a nation that can stir the hearts of average nobodies like her. Aw, it’s sincere, enough for the hardass agents to pass looks of surprise between each other.
She’s bought all the time she can, so she inches back out into the hallway, where Pil-hoon is still waiting of course. She has a really geeky I-am-Spiderman moment where she tries to stick to the door like it’ll keep her from being discovered, which lasts until the next interviewer has to get past her.
He happens to be GONG DO-HA (Chansung) who rightly looks at her like she’s a crazy person. And then she apologizes before grabbing him like a giant monkey shield to block her from Pil-hoon’s view, and uses him to scurry into the bathroom.
Pil-hoon chases them down and has his first run-in with Do-ha, consisting of nothing but a shoulder bump and silent glares.
He waits and waits for Kyung-ja to come out of the bathroom, while she stays hidden, terrified of being caught for going on that date posing as someone else and being sued for all the damages. He looks like he might wait it out all day, until some women assume he’s a pervert for hanging out near the women’s restroom, and he bolts in embarrassment.
But Pil-hoon is nothing if not stubborn, and seeks out Jin-ju, the friend who runs the dating service. He demands to have Kyung-ja’s phone number (though he still only knows her as Seo-won).
Jin-ju refuses to give up any personal information in case he’s a stalker, and he threatens that he’ll find her no matter what it takes.
He thinks this’ll be easy—how many diplomat families could there possibly be in this town? He knocks on one family’s door, only to find that they don’t even have a daughter.
Kyung-ja heads back to a tutoring academy, this time to pursue her dream of becoming a broadcasting PD. Pil-hoon sits and stews over her civil service exam book, scoffing at all the handwritten notes like they’re just there for looks, so she can appear to be working hard.
And then he discovers a drawing of someone with devil horns called King Jerk, with notes like “rich + asshole” scrawled nearby. HEE.
But to their utter surprise (and frankly mine, based on how their interviews went), both Kyung-ja and Pil-hoon get calls announcing that they’ve made it as new NIS recruits. Pil-hoon happens to be at the firing range, and freaks out in hilarious over-the-top excitement, shooting wildly like a loon. The guards literally take him down like he’s a terrorist.
Kyung-ja goes home because of another crisis on the family farm—this time Dad went into debt to buy cows and the whole lot of them died. She blames him for another stupid move, he argues that he does all this for her, and round and round they go.
It always comes back to the same point, of course, that she’s still unemployed. And that’s when she finally spits out that she got a job. Mom and Dad gape, and ask if it’s a PD job.
Pil-hoon comes home with a cake and champagne to announce the news to his parents, and Mom is in a huff because she already knows. And so does Dad, who comes home fuming.
Pil-hoon says it’s good news, and that he kept it from Dad because he knew they’d stop him. Dad growls that of course they would’ve stopped him; why’d he do it? Pil-hoon: “Because it’s cool.”
That sends Dad reeling and he slaps him across the face. “You gamble away your car, and you think it’s COOL?” OH. Are they having two entirely different conversations? Ha. Mistake! Mistake!
Pil-hoon belatedly realizes that he and Dad are talking about different things, and tries to explain. But Dad is so pissed that he goes off on this tirade about how other kids are out there pouring every ounce of hard work into getting jobs in this tough world, and he can’t even pretend to act like a human being.
He outright says that Pil-hoon will never be a man and never amount to anything. Aw, what terrible timing. Now Pil-hoon is so hurt that he doesn’t even try to tell his parents what he intended to say, and just spits back that he’ll repay them for the car.
Dad argues that it’s not the money he wants, but for Pil-hoon to fight to get the car back, and Pil-hoon shouts, “No, it IS the money you want. Money is the only thing you care about!” By then Dad’s reaching for a golf club, and Mom has to intervene. Pil-hoon stalks off. Poor puppy.
Kyung-ja’s got the opposite problem—she doesn’t even know if she wants to accept the job, but Mom and Dad are already crying at the news that she’s finally made something of herself, and no matter how many times she tries to say that she still wants to become a PD, they start pouring congratulatory drinks.
They go from wiping their happy tears to planning a village party, totally ignoring the fact that she keeps saying she’s undecided about the job.
Pil-hoon immediately packs a bag, along with his precious Tomorrow Never Dies poster, and heaves one last sigh before leaving his room.
Kyung-ja sits up that night, playing rock-paper-scissors with herself over her two career choices. It goes about as well as you can imagine. But the vision of her parents smiling proudly makes her decision for her, and she figures she’ll give this career a chance, at least till things pan out for her in broadcasting.
Agent Kim Won-seok comes home that night to his wife and daughter, and announces that he’s been put in charge of training the new NIS recruits. It turns out what he really wants from the job is to be transferred to the States in a year’s time.
It’s agent training enlistment day, and we meet another of our recruits, SHIN SUN-MI (Kim Min-seo), who rushes to meet the bus in a cab, changing on the way.
Kyung-ja gets slowed down when the wheel snaps off her suitcase, but Do-ha appears behind her, remembering her from the day of the interviews. He carries her case off before she has a chance to stop him, and she thanks him again, apologizing for her odd behavior when they met.
Agent Young-soon is at the bus to bark orders right away, and they get on quietly. Do-ha sits down in an empty pair of seats, eagerly anticipating that Kyung-ja will sit next to him… but she sits across the aisle.
The bus is about to take off when the last recruit runs on, all swagger and smiles. It’s Pil-hoon, and Kyung-ja freaks out and ducks for cover behind her magazine.
I love that Young-soon sneers and tells him to take them off, and he takes off his jacket. She’s like, The sunglasses, you dolt. This is gonna be fun.
He sits down next to Do-ha and offers up a friendly introduction, but Do-ha’s all business and not about to be his bus buddy. Pil-hoon’s too excited to care much, and bops around like this is the bus to Disneyland.
That is, until he sees it—the brooch on Kyung-ja’s blazer, the exact same outfit he’s seen her in, three other times. She peers one eyeball out from behind her magazine, to see him staring straight at her. Caught.
He grins like he’s just nabbed the white whale. He’s enjoying this way too much. He leaps out of his seat to play tug-of-war with her magazine screaming, “Kim Seo-won! You’re Kim Seo-won, right?”
He finally gets her to uncover her face, and dies laughing right there in the middle of the bus, “I knew I’d find you! You’re dead!”
Next thing they know, Young-soon launches them off the bus and throws nothing but their coats and phones at their feet. She orders them to make it to base camp in time, otherwise they’re both out. Pfft.
He’s not even concerned, still obsessed with figuring out what her deal is, and asks if she’s really a diplomat’s daughter. She swears she is, so he nabs her phone and takes off running.
She chases, calling him a thief, while he calls her a con artist. He’s done his homework and her diplomat father only has two sons, which means she was lying about who she was. He threatens to report her and her friend for fraud.
She bows in apology, sincerely sorry about the car, but says it was his fault for putting her life in danger, and asks him to let it go. Pil-hoon: “And if I don’t?”
She starts rolling up the magazine in her hand: “Then I’ll have to kill you.” He scoffs, but before he can even finish laughing, she beats him bloody and then knocks him down with a spin kick. HA.
She dusts her hands off and heads out on her own. A little while later, Pil-hoon climbs up out of the riverbank with a bloody nose and bruised ego. He remembers the hitch-a-ride-with-food-delivery tactic, and calls for food.
The rest of the recruits head into their first meeting with Agent Won-seok who tells them that they’ve already failed today. They came here while leaving their fellow agents behind. Oh, was that a test for them too?
He points to the framed adage on the wall: “One path [han gil-ro] for country.” He says that this path is one they can only take with their fellow teammates, and docks the entire group ten points each, adding that when they reach 50, they’re out for good.
Sun-mi raises her hand and complains that the two who got kicked off the bus were disobeying orders, so why should they be punished unfairly? Young-soon: “Then leave. Go live somewhere where it’s fair.” Lol, she’s so awesome.
Won-seok makes them all feel guilty for leaving their teammates behind, while they struggle on the harsh road to make it here. Cut to: Pil-hoon on the back of a pink delivery motorcycle, screaming as he catches up to Kyung-ja on the back of her delivery motorcycle.
And then they actually resume their fight mid-ride, armed with the things they have on hand. She swipes with her magazine and he uses a serving tray as a shield.
When that goes flying, he cackles in evil glee as he reaches for the soup, and throws it in her face.
So she reaches for the jajangmyun… He screams noooo, but she chucks it, and it goes SPLAT all over his face. HEE. This is pretty damn entertaining.
The petty duo finally arrives at the base and they come flying in, still pawing at each other like children. They scurry to their seats with scowls.
The first task at hand is in choosing a cover name, and Kyung-ja sticks to the one she’s used before: KIM SEO-WON. Pil-hoon looks around the room, and sees the framed motto and smiles. He writes down: HAN GIL-RO. At least now we know where his nonsensical name comes from. I guess I’ll switch to their aliases now.
Won-seok calls them to the front of the room and assigns them to lead the pledge every day, and immediately they complain that they’d rather do the task with someone else. He asks if they dislike each other and Gil-ro screams, “YES!”
Won-seok kicks him in the shins. It gets a laugh from the room, but he says it’s not a joke, and growls at Gil-ro to get his head on straight—his teammates are more precious than his own life.
So they lead the group in the pledge, to serve their country and live and die without a name. Won-seok tells them that no one, not even their families, can know exactly what it is they do from here on out. “You’ll find that more than dying without a name, living without one is the hardest thing to do.”
Gil-ro’s parents report him missing, like he’s some teenager who ran away from home. Did you not even leave a note? Meanwhile Seo-won’s parents are busy throwing a big village party announcing their daughter’s government position. Eek, just after Won-seok warned them that no one can know they work for the government?
Gil-ro stops Seo-won again once they’re dismissed, and has a good point—they’re going to be training together for a year, so it’s not like she can ignore him the entire time, right? But she seems dead set on doing just that.
The other recruits all grumble at the pair as they walk by, already pissed about losing the ten points the first day. Do-ha is the only one to stop and introduce himself, first to Seo-won, and then to Gil-ro.
Gil-ro accepts his handshake, but then suddenly starts squirming. Do-ha doesn’t even flinch as he squeezes Gil-ro’s hand so hard that he finally squeals and breaks free. Hee, it’s pretty embarrassing.
They each move into their new dorm rooms, and Gil-ro puts up his Bond poster with a smile, while Seo-won marks the days in her calendar until the PD exam.
Seo-won is pretty much an outsider from day one, considering she’s already been pegged as a troublemaker. Do-ha is the only one who’s friendly, and asks if her ex-boyfriend is giving her a lot of grief.
She doesn’t understand what he means until she realizes he’s assuming that Gil-ro is her ex, and she swears up and down she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Oh he totally asked just to get you to say that, didn’t he? Do-ha: “I don’t have one either. A girlfriend.”
She says the whole Gil-ro thing is a big misunderstanding, and he offers up some advice, suggesting that she clear it up. “People with misunderstandings tend to end up lonely.” Aw, he’s looking out for her.
Gil-ro doesn’t make it easy though, choosing terrible times like mid-morning-run to confront her again. She keeps running ahead to avoid him, and they end up racing out in front of the pack, inciting the ire of their trainers.
Young-soon makes them hop along with their arms around each other, shouting, “Love of brother! Love of country!” over and over, around the field.
It makes things even more strained for Seo-won, who gets singled out at lunchtime like it’s high school all over again. Sun-mi is especially vocal about her distaste for her, talking down to her as she says this isn’t the place to work out her romance issues.
The entire table gets up, leaving Seo-won to eat alone.
She looks back at Gil-ro, who’s just stuffing his face in blissful ignorance. She walks up to his table and calls him out to settle this.
She writes out a contract promising to pay for half the car when they’re done with training. He balks at the year’s time, but she argues that they can’t leave here anyway.
It states a false identification number and yet another false name. She swears it’s her real one, and he really has no way of checking, so after making her recite the ID number, he threatens that if any of the information on the page is another lie, he now has evidence of fraud.
She asks him for a contract in return—that he’ll stay away from her, not appear anywhere in her line of sight, stand next to her, or even make eye contact. He’s happy to do it, insisting that he hates people like her.
He shouts that he likes people who work hard for what little they have, which is really funny coming from him. Contracts are signed and the matter is settled.
Do-ha trains a little harder than everyone else, and he’s clearly lived a harsher life than the rest of these guys. A flashback shows us that he’s seen war in his time in the army. While abroad, the hospital he’s guarding gets bombed, and he comes face to face with a child soldier—a little girl who shoots him in the gut.
She kills more soldiers, and then when she runs out of bullets, his commanding officer tells him to shoot her. He raises his gun, but can’t do it, and watches as she gets away.
Meanwhile, upper-level NIS agents find out that Baddie Uhmforce (his character’s name is Choi Woo-hyuk) has been seen in country. The director bites their heads off and warns that if the bastard who killed their teammate gets away this time, they’ll all lose their jobs.
Woo-hyuk trades in research and development, and the NIS is ordered to figure out what secrets he’s here to buy. Cut to Woo-hyuk having a drink with Gil-ro’s father, who thinks he’s a businessman ready to deal. Hmmm.
Gil-ro and Seo-won find themselves in breach of contract right away when they have to lead the group in the pledge the very next day. She whispers that he’s not supposed to stand near her, and he doesn’t see how he’s supposed to avoid her during the pledge.
So she fakes a cough to get out of it, and Young-soon sends her to the infirmary and asks for a volunteer to replace her. Do-ha raises his hand eagerly, to Gil-ro’s ever-loving displeasure.
Won-seok chats with his fellow agent about the new recruits, and he complains that young kids have no patriotism anymore. His friend chides that Won-seok was no different when they were younguns, citing his love of James Bond. Ha. Won-seok: “James Bond was a patriot!”
His friend tells him that Woo-hyuk is back and he’s forming a team to go catch him. He asks Won-seok to leave the recruit training and join him, but gets no answer.
Woo-hyuk tells his minions not to worry about the NIS, though they dislike the idea of killing unnecessary people for the cause. Woo-hyuk tells them that of all the gangs and crime syndicates of the world, the most cruel and inhumane of them all is Country.
He says that in the name of country, they kill countless innocents every day, just like their parents. Ah, so that’s the reason these three are all terrorists. He vows to kill them all, to get their revenge.
The rookies get introduced to their next challenge: beating the lie detector. Won-seok gets hooked up to the chair and demonstrates. He answers all their questions with blatant lies, but the computer reads them all as true.
They each take turns in the hot seat, and Gil-ro fails pretty spectacularly. Is he an agent? “No.” Lie. Is he a liar? “No.” Lie. Does he love his country? “Yes.” Lie.
On Do-ha’s turn, he fails to lie as well. Is he an agent? “No.” Lie. But then when Won-seok asks if he loves his country, he says “Yes,” and the machine reads: True. The group ooohs.
He asks if Do-ha would die for his country, and again he answers, “Yes.” Also true. Badass. That gets a round of applause. Won-seok makes an example of him, pointing out to the class that the machine can help them separate the Gil-ros from the Do-has. Ouuuch.
As Seo-won gets hooked up to the machine, Young-soon tells the class that being a natural untrained liar who can beat the detector is a 1:120,000 shot. And it either means you’re a psychopath or a born spy.
She tells them she’s only ever seen one person do it, and claims that that person is her. So the expectation is set pretty high when Seo-won takes her turn, but she lies just as badly as everyone else.
After Won-seok asks his questions, suddenly Gil-ro darts up and asks permission to try questioning her. Uh-oh.
He catches her in lie after lie about her identity, though she evades giving the real answers. He finally asks if her father is really a diplomat, and she can feel all eyes on her as the pressure mounts.
She takes a pause, and then calms her nerves, and looks up with a determined gleam in her eye. She tells him to ask it again, and this time she answers, “Yes, my father is a diplomat. If you want to call me a con artist, then prove it. I’ve never once lied to you!”
Lie detector: True. Dun dun!
Heh, maybe SHE’s more Bond than he’ll ever be. I like the idea that she’s a natural at this, but I wish these traits had been better developed with her. The setup spent so long drilling in the fact that our heroine is a hardworking Candy that it wasted the opportunity to set up some interesting natural spy traits, like the ability to lie under pressure. So far she’s been quite a terrible liar, in fact, which is why Gil-ro is expecting her response to come out as false.
Thank goodness that at least the bickering chemistry is there—that’s pretty much half a rom-com anyway, so even if I don’t buy the romance yet, I’m getting good vibes from their hatred. It probably helps that Joo-won’s petulant man-child Gil-ro is so delightfully ridiculous, because you pretty much just want to kick him in the shins every five minutes, and she does so, at will. She’s definitely most interesting when they’re together, because I at least buy the idea that they can’t stand being together, which is the fun of course, in watching them get punished with forced skinship and the like.
I’m just glad we got to spy academy sooner rather than later, because today’s episode was a great deal more interesting, with the pressure of the first day of school, complete with your high school setups of mean girls and cafeteria politics. I found Do-ha’s character setup to be over-the-top with the backstory, but a good character nonetheless. He’s a good foil for the hapless playboy Gil-ro, all duty and honor and way too self-serious for anyone’s good. I see a lot of potential in their rivalry and friendship, much in the way of the Lee Seung-gi/Jo Jung-seok bromance in The King 2 Hearts (the setup feels a lot like war games camp on that show too), just with less funny and probably way more rivalry.
I hope this show knows that its strength isn’t going to be in the badassery, because already the weighty scenes make me laugh. Let’s stick to our strengths, Show, and go for the ridiculous. For now I’m content with Spy School, if this is where we’ll be for the first leg of the journey. It’s a nicely self-contained bubble where our cast of main characters are forced into proximity, for better or worse, and it’s a great way to find out just what they’re made of.
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 1
- Joo-won: 007 Civil Servant
- Level 7 Civil Servant’s ballroom flirting and agent training
- Uhm Tae-woong’s Level 7 Civil Servant guest appearance
- Winks, finger guns, and blind dates for Level 7 Civil Servant
- The bickering begins on Level 7 Civil Servant
- Joo-won shoots (hur hur) for Level 7 Civil Servant
- Level 7 Civil Servant starts shooting
- Level 7 Civil Servant adds to its spy count