Illustration by Ally
We’re heading into our last stretch, and you know, in this episode I see nuggets of a Story That Could Have Been. I suppose that’s been the case the whole show long, though, so it’s not exactly news. But what Level 7 Civil Servant got all wrong (one of several things) is its pacing — if they’d shoved everything up front and gotten to everything a lot quicker, maybe I’d still have my head in the game. But it sorta feels like nobody’s really around anymore, not really. Twenty episodes shoulda been eight, maybe, and we’d have had a zippier ride. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
SONG OF THE DAY
Vanilla Acoustic – “숨은 마음 찾기” (Find the hidden heart) [ Download ]
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Won-seok falls to the ground, shot by JJ, aka Choi Woo-jin, just as our agent duo arrives to witness it. (By the way, the characters call his big brother JJ but the show itself — charts, website, articles — call this guy JJ, which you’d think is something they could maybe be consistent about. Whatever.)
Gil-ro fires off a few shots after Woo-jin, but can’t chase after him with Won-seok bleeding on the ground. Seo-won calls in the 911 to Young-soon, who is sitting with a not-so-shocked Director Oh. At least he looks bad about it, but yunno, you don’t get a lot of credit for merely feeling bad about backstabbing your man to save your own skin.
Barely alive, Won-seok is rushed to the hospital with his distraught team at his side, while MI-rae waits anxiously for her own teammate to return. She’s relieved when Woo-jin arrives, and despite having very little gas left in my tank of caring for this drama, I find it a little sweet how concerned she is for his welfare. His survival is now her priority, and she doesn’t even seem to care that his hit wasn’t 100 percent successful; she says he probably died, and hands over a plane ticket for the next morning.
Gil-ro blames himself for everything, saying that he should have handed over the Dad Files sooner, but he was too fixated on saving his father.
His father is currently in the same throes of self-recrimination, and tries to convince Mom to move abroad. She isn’t having it, but he says that Gil-ro is a national agent and that he’s a criminal — words that make Mom sit up in confusion. Dad admits to going to turn himself in, only to find that his crimes had been wiped clean. Who else would have done such a thing if not for Gil-ro? He blames himself for forcing his son to commit a crime himself, which makes me think: Now there’s a conflict that would have been interesting.
Sun-mi joins the team in the emergency room, and a few moments later Do-ha also rushes in, worried. But Sun-mi turns on him and slaps him across the face, ordering him out. The others have no clue why she’s turning on him, Do-ha included, but she screams at him, “What right do you have to be here? Do you really think I don’t know what you did?” Normally her histrionics are too much for me, but I find the rage somewhat satisfying in this instance.
Young-soon comes out wearing a grave face and instructs Seo-won and Gil-ro to come along: Somebody’s got to inform the family.
Won-seok’s wife is still huffy and snaps that she still wants a divorce, thinking her husband was too busy and sent reps in his place. But the moment she hears about the accident, she starts trembling with worry, and Young-soon urges her to be strong: Won-seok was shot, and is gravely injured.
Aw, man, so he didn’t die? Look, if you’re going to give us this big cliffhanger moment and finally, for the love of Drama God, give us stakes that really matter, what’s the point in going chickenshit at the last moment? I can’t believe I’m actually annoyed that a good guy didn’t die, but this drama has a way of making these things true.
The wife is weakened by the shock, but still strong enough to shake off a consoling arm. She accuses them of stealing her husband from her all her life, and heads into her bedroom to sob alone.
Gil-ro and Seo-won are having trouble holding back their own sobs, and he asks why they were brought along. Young-soon says they were at the scene, and this is what it means to be responsible for your teammate.
At the hospital, Sun-mi refuses the food Do-ha brings her, still angry. He says calmly that being shot doesn’t equal dying, which is something he knows from experience. He shows her his own bullet wound to prove it, and it seems to defuse her anger, at least somewhat.
Woo-jin takes a bath, which I’m including since it would be a shame to waste the gratuitous nekkid shot. He relives the shooting and feeling more bothered than he’d like at the memory of Won-seok’s relief to see him alive. Feeling sympathy for the enemy does tend to put a damper on victory.
Won-seok makes it out of surgery still alive, but without consciousness nobody can predict whether he’ll live or die.
Gil-ro goes back home just long enough to pack his bags, and tells his mother that Dad was right in calling himself a criminal. Choking back tears, he tells Mom he won’t be coming back to this house anymore, and tells her to convey the message that Dad can consider himself son-less.
Young-soon gathers her team to tell them to prepare themselves for the next step, which is to nab the shooter, only to be interrupted by Director Oh, here to disband the team. He pulls rank and orders all the agents to turn in their materials and await reassignment while his team will clean up shop here, and Young-soon can only fume silently and agree.
Director Oh even forces Sun-mi to leave behind her painting, which she’d given to Do-ha as a present and now intends to reclaim. She leaves shooting Do-ha a dirty look, as though blaming him for everything.
After she leaves, Do-ha takes a look at the canvas and finds a large pop-art rendering of his face. I wish I knew what to think of this moment, but I’m too confused by what they’ve done with Do-ha — wouldn’t it be nice if he showed some more conflict about the whole part where he betrayed his teammates?
Gil-ro shows some sass by slapping a bill (a dollar equivalent) on the table for Director Oh, calling it a tip for the office “cleaning.” Heh. It’s potentially a dumb move to pull on your boss’s boss, but he gets points for guts.
He pays for it, though, because when Gil-ro opens his reassignment letter he finds that he’s been put on call center duty. Ha, like Won-seok was initially.
He shows up at Seo-won’s door with suitcase in hand, ready to move in. She asks, “Without even consulting me?” He replies, “Yup.” He argues that Woo-jin was after her before and that makes her vulnerable, and therefore he won’t leave her side for a moment. She points out that being together doesn’t make her safe from harm, to which he says, “But we can die together.” That’s… romantic?
I guess it’s enough to sway her, because Seo-won tells him, “If you want to die together, go back home. If you want to live together, bring your clothes over here.” She makes it extra-extra-clear that she doesn’t mean they’ll be living together, as in living in sin like a K-drama whoreslut, but literally existing. I really wish this show didn’t push such a backwards puritan agenda about feminine virtue, especially since it’s supposedly about modern women packing heat and kicking ass, but maybe it’s too late for those regrets.
Gil-ro and Seo-won settle down for the night — she in bed, he on the floor — and wonder about each other’s reassignments. They aren’t allowed to divulge the info to each other, so Gil-ro just tells her not to worry about him because he got sent to a good department and is poised to live out his 007 dreams. They both say they’ve been sent in the field in prime positions, which makes me expect both of them to show up at adjacent phone stations the next day.
A bit later, Gil-ro gets up to check on Seo-won, who has fallen asleep. He tucks his monkey in bed with her, which sadly is nowhere near as naughty as that sounds.
The next day, as expected, Gil-ro and Seo-won report for duty at side-by-side phone stations at the NIS call center, fielding calls from citizens with “tips” about suspicious behavior. Ha.
Gil-ro supposes that Director Oh will be feeling safe now that he’s disbanded Won-seok’s team, and decides that this means it’s time to act. Rogue spy mission time! Seo-won warns that they have no resources and they’d be breaking rules, but he argues that you can’t get anything done if you follow all the rules. Still, he proposes that they get “permission” first, and off they go to visit Won-seok at the hospital.
His wife puts her foot down, though, not in any mood to share any of their precious time now, not with the agency that stole so much of hers. But Gil-ro pleads, saying that he’s Won-seok’s student and wanted to become an agent just like him, and she grudgingly relents.
Gil-ro apologizes to the unconscious Won-seok for not protecting him and vows to catch his shooter.
On their way out, Won-seok’s daughter stops them to ask for details. Something doesn’t add up to her, and she’s skeptical that Dad is just a common cosmetics salesman after all. Gil-ro says that he’s not, but only identifies him as “the best man I know” and warns the daughter to quit messing around at school and smoking and beating up other kids.
Gil-ro and Seo-won set out to recruiting teammates to their rogue mission, but get nowhere. Do-ha won’t break the rules and their former training-mates are too scared.
Sun-mi points out that they’re going about this immaturely, and that if they want to be taken seriously they’d better put serious prep work into it before recruiting — get an office, resources, line of intel, weapons. When did Sun-mi become the mature voice of reason around here?
Upon hearing that they approached Do-ha with their idea, Sun-mi sighs that they’d best expect to be hauled in for investigation soon.
Over dinner, Seo-won presents Gil-ro with a gift of new matching bags, since theirs got confiscated by the agency. That leads to an unexpected tiff, though, when he argues that she has no money to spend on things like that and she gets offended that he keeps calling her poor. And then it morphs into “You should ask me to buy it for you” and “Don’t change the subject” and “I don’t want to talk about money” and “Fine, I’ll return them.” I don’t really get this argument. Let’s move on.
…to Seo-won’s parents? Can we skip this too? Okay, the skinny: Mom and Dad have spent the whole series puffing themselves up with pretensions of grandeur, encouraged by Seo-won’s example as government agent. Dad has talked a big game about Getting Things Done, so the villagers have been sending them lots of bribes to get their own requests recognized. (Hence the beef eating and the high living for a while there.) Dad’s proposal has now been rejected and the parents are shaking in their boots about how this’ll blow up in their faces. Considering that they’ve been misusing their positions of power, I can’t say I have one ounce of sympathy for them. Or this storyline. Onward.
After dinner, Gil-ro tries to move closer to Seo-won for a hug, only to get kicked away. And then he tries a smooch and she shoves a wet plate in his face. GOD. I’m done with You Who Does Not Deserve Kisses. Then he apologizes and thanks her for the bag, and she yells at him in annoyance. WhatEVER.
Mom calls Seo-won in tears, asking for help because Dad’s dug himself a hole, hoping Seo-won can maybe pull some strings with her government contacts. Seo-won hears about the bribes and snaps that she warned them not to accept a single favor once he was elected mayor and hangs up on Mom, saying they no longer have a daughter. Yeesh. Gil-ro backs away slowly. Probably wise.
Gil-ro’s father starts getting his ducks in a row, preparing to do the right thing — at least I assume it’s the right thing from the way he tells his No. 2 director that he’ll be leaving the company soon. He’s divided his own stock amongst his employees and asks the director to take care of the firm.
NIS call center. Wow, this episode has an unprecedented amount of filler, with scenes that go on for ages before getting to the point. Gil-ro ignores a call from his mother, who then calls Seo-won (still calling her Jung-won, since there’s that whole other identity we haven’t visited in a while). Seo-won assures her that Gil-ro is doing fine, and agrees to pass along a message. Man, that scene took a long time to do anything.
After work, Seo-won drives them to the airport to see his parents off to Canada. He gets angry and warns her to pull over, but she refuses.
Mom is in tears, while Dad only says vaguely that he has to leave lest he ruin their son’s future.
Gil-ro has to be dragged inside, but he runs along with Seo-won as they make their way to the gate. Seo-won has to practically shove him toward the gate, warning that he’ll regret letting them leave, and he dutifully steps forward.
The father-son scene is strained and tense, and Gil-ro doesn’t want to hear Dad’s explanation of leaving for his good — to his ears, that sounds like a lame excuse for running away. He accuses his father of never giving him a warm word, and of loving money over his son. At those words, Dad drops his bag, takes off his jacket, and bares his chest, scarred from that long-ago fire.
Dad says that this is why he never gave him a hug, because Gil-ro had said he was ashamed of his monstrous-looking father, and that’s why he never took him to the baths either. But he’d never blamed him for setting the fire, and adds, “The one who ran away hating me was you.”
Dad says he’s sorry for committing a crime, and this time when he turns away Gil-ro pulls him back. Crying, he asks his father not to leave: “Please undergo an investigation and live together with me — I won’t run away either.” Aw, and they hug.
Seo-won watches feeling relieved, then calls her mother to apologize. Well thank goodness.
Gil-ro and Seo-won head to his dad’s company afterward… because now they get to use it as headquarters. Oh, that’s a good idea. Too bad this didn’t happen earlier. They’re happily surprised by the arrival of their two training-mates, not having expected they’d show — and then Do-ha strolls in too. There’s a little alpha-male posturing between Do-ha and Gil-ro, but it ends in an handshake and even a bro-hug.
Sun-mi must also be on the team, because she works busily at her desk in her new position, but she’s cracking files to get access to the Choi Woo-hyuk intel. Apparently she’s suddenly the hacker genius — no seriously, this episode is the first we’ve heard of it — and she manages to break in, only to find that the files on our Baddie Trio are empty. Looks like Director Oh made a clean sweep.
He meets in secret with Mi-rae to assure her of the file wipe, and wants her to hand over her info to him. She says she’ll do it at Won-seok’s funeral.
He’s put together some key facts, though, and confirms what we know — the identities of Choi Woo-jin and Woo-hyuk. She plays it cool, but she’s rattled at his revelation that their father wasn’t the innocent pawn they think he was, betrayed after doing the country a service. No, he was a criminal himself profiting from illegal arms trade, and they had cut a deal with him for his information. Furthermore, he guesses she was the daughter of his conspirator.
Mi-rae doesn’t admit a thing, and just threatens Director Oh into divulging Won-seok’s hospital.
So it’s probably a fortuitous coincidence (in dramaland? What are the odds?) that Seo-won and Gil-ro drop by the hospital that night to tell Won-seok of their team formation, and take some time to give him a sponge bath.
Woo-jin disguises himself as a doctor and takes himself and his silencer to the hospital, with Mi-rae warning him to take care of business swiftly. He finds two guards stationed outside the room, and purposefully dons a pair of glasses with heavy spy music blaring. Is that… a Bond gadget that makes you invincible? Or just your disguise?
Or maybe it’s just a confusingly directed moment, because Woo-jin strolls right up to the guards and shoots each one in the chest.
To their excitement, Gil-ro and Seo-won spot a finger twitching. They lean in close as Won-seok’s eyes start moving, and then… he wakes up.
The door opens, and Woo-jin starts to enter.
Let’s start with positives. I thought this episode had a few interesting developments, and it’s a shame that they waited so long for our spies to go rogue. Once Gil-ro and Seo-won hooked up and confessed their feelings (which should have happened sooner too) we should have gotten to the rogue team moment, because that would have taken over for the loss of tension and crackle once the romance was resolved. When you had the couple bickering for episodes on end, my god, after it was clear they were into each other, it just dragged us round and round in circles.
So now we have a team forming amidst the uncertainty of a disbanded mission and a shifty boss in charge, and our rookie operatives are putting on their big boy (and girl) spy pants. Conceptually it’s a fun idea, and matches the tone of early days — immature and unrealistic, yes, but at least it’s fun. They can use their smarts to outsmart the people who trained them, turning themselves effectively into double agents — working behind the NIS’s back, but for the greater good of the NIS.
The problem with bringing that in at this stage is that we’re so near the end of the game that I can’t really get excited about the premise. We’ve got three episodes left, and judging from the bloated, padding-filled episodes we’re getting these days the drama isn’t going to take that idea anywhere fun. It’ll just play it out long enough to fill an episode of conflict, and then our baddies will make another attempt on Won-seok’s life (yawn), and then we’ll be handed some half-hearted pat resolution.
I’m glad that Gil-ro and his father’s strife was finally resolved, because I found that the only relationship thread left that I care about. I’ve always thought that was much more moving than the other relationships, whether the lovelines or the teacher-mentor pairs or the avenger-victim vendetta. I found the mechanics of the reconciliation half-baked and confusing (with the scar and the fire reveal, which wasn’t really that much of a reveal since we knew about it), but the effect was nice and sweet. Maybe the drama can come up with a few more beats like that, and end on a (relative) upswing. Because yet another assassination attempt and yet another near-miss isn’t really doing much for suspense.
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 16
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 15
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 14
- Update: Screencaps, recaps, and Joo-won
- Announcement: Level 7 Civil Servant recaps now with less Joo-won
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 13
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 12
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 11
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 10
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 9
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 8
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 7
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 6
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 5
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 4
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 3
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 2
- Level 7 Civil Servant: Episode 1