Chief Kim: Episode 20 (Final)
As this comedic gem comes to its sweet and satisfying end, we’re reminded of how much we’ve been through together. Throughout its run, I’ve been increasingly surprised at how well Chief Kim executed its genre, especially its loving character development and its thoughtful wisdom – but now that it’s time to send off our much-changed heroes (and villains), I find myself regretting the time I spent doubting the show instead of just enjoying it at face value. With all the love and care the showrunners put into this lovely, wacky, and unexpectedly wise show, I’ll be sad to say goodbye, but I’m grateful for the characters that have come to feel like my good friends.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Prosecutor Han and his coworkers invade Chairman Park’s office, but he’s already disappeared. Just as Chairman Park arrives at the airport with packed bags, Yul and Sung-ryong realize that Chairman Park is probably trying to flee. They hurry to catch him before it’s too late.
When they arrive at the airport, Yul runs frantically through the crowd to search for the chairman, but Sung-ryong has a better idea. Over the intercom, he announces that a criminal is trying to flee his charges of attempted murder and embezzlement. As Sung-ryong describes Chairman Park’s appearance to as giggling passersby, Chairman Park covers his face with his passport, and Yul calls to snap at him to hurry to Chairman Park’s gate.
Yul arrives at the gate first and catches the chairman just in time, but airport security drags him off. Sung-ryong is met with the same treatment even as he kicks and screams about Chairman Park’s criminal charges. The chairman nearly gets away scot-free… until Prosecutor Han appears, arrest warrant in hand. Phew!
At home, Madam Jang receives the news of Chairman Park’s arrest. Beside her, Myung-suk hangs his head, and they sit in silence.
Sung-ryong arrives at the Prosecutor’s Office with energy drinks for Ga-eun and Yul. As they wait for the lawyers to arrive, Ga-eun asks Sung-ryong how he managed to catch Chief Lee’s attempted murderers at the hospital yesterday. Through a flash back, we see that when Ha-kyung had left the office to pay Chief Lee a visit, Sung-ryong had informed her that there would probably be men waiting there.
At the hospital, Mrs. Lee had happily informed her that Chief Lee was close to recovery. However, Mrs. Lee had confirmed that a suspicious man had been hanging outside their room for a few days. Disguised in hospital uniforms, Business Operations had made sure the coast was clear as they moved Chief Lee’s body to safety, tricking the murderer into targeting a decoy.
In the present, Sung-ryong asks Ga-eun what they found in Chief Lee’s black box. Through another flash back, we see that Director Go had threatened Chief Lee in his car, forcing him to confess to embezzlement and gambling and to delete all the evidence he had on TQ. When he’d refused, several black-clad figures had dragged him out of his car. Blackmailing him with pictures of his young son, they’d forced him to write his own suicide note and then strangled him with a rope.
Sung-ryong curses, swearing to arrest them all. Then Yul informs them that the lawyers have arrived for the interrogation.
As they watch, Prosecutor Han asks Chairman Park and Executive Director Jo whether Chairman Park ordered Chief Lee’s murder. Before Executive Director Jo can answer, however, Chairman Park blames it all on her – she orchestrated the whole thing, he says, to prove her loyalty to him. Executive Director Jo stares at him in shock.
Chairman Park then demands the evidence of his alleged embezzlement and tax evasion, pointing out that they don’t have evidence of his slush fund. This won’t end until they find that money, Yul notes grimly, but Sung-ryong disagrees: the end will only end when Chairman Park is sent to prison.
It’s easier said than done, however, because Chairman Park has specifically chosen banks that protect their clients’ account information. At the office, Sung-ryong notes that Chairman Park would never reveal the bank information himself, and Accountant Lee was in charge of those accounts, anyway… which makes Ha-kyung wonder, how are they doing?
Cut to: an exhausted Accountant Lee and Director Go, still tied up and confined to their chairs. As Director Go complains that they haven’t eaten in days, Accountant Lee tries to bite through their ropes with bloody lips. Suddenly, Director Go realizes that his hands have been untied for a while now, and Accountant Lee wails at his wasted effort.
Director Go starts to untie Accountant Lee, but quickly ties himself back up when the police barge in. Lol. They begin to sigh in relief that the police have come to save them, but instead, the police inform them that they’re under arrest for breach of duty and fraud.
Meanwhile, dozens of reporters wait outside of the Prosecutor’s Office to question Chairman Park. He denies the allegations, declaring that the police are forcing him to confess against his will. As TQ watches the controversy on TV, Ms. Uhm snorts to herself: “What a joke.”
Business Operations fields a barrage of phone calls from furious banks, demanding their investments and loan payments. When Manager Lee wonders if TQ could actually go bankrupt and force everyone into unemployment, a dismayed Myung-suk storms out of the office.
Ha-kyung follows him out to see what’s wrong, and Myung-suk asks if it’s true that TQ could fail despite all of their hard work. Ha-kyung tells him that it’s possible, though not certain. She urges him to stay hopeful, but Myung-suk tells her that it’s useless.
While Yul tries to calm down TQ’s furious board of directors, Madam Jang meets with her own board members, all demanding an immediate solution to this mess.
Meanwhile, Chairman Park calmly eats a boxed lunch as he meets with his lawyer. He tells him to negotiate a deal: get Madam Jang to take the blame for the embezzlement and Executive Director Jo to take the blame for the attempted murder. If they do, then he will use his own assets to prevent TQ’s bankruptcy. He demands their answers within two days, or else TQ will go belly-up.
Chairman Park has an additional message for Executive Director Jo: If she agrees to take the blame for the murder, he will make sure she lives comfortably after his release. Overnight, Executive Director Jo considers the offer before returning with a counteroffer: Chairman Park must give her half of his slush fund, or she’ll release the voice recording proving that he ordered the murder. Executive Director Jo demands an answer within two days.
Sung-ryong, Director Chu, and Ha-kyung meet with Madam Jang to discuss Chairman Park’s deal. Worried for the employees, Madam Jang starts to give in to Chairman Park’s demand, but Sung-ryong insists that she can’t give in to terrorists’ demands. Madam Jang thanks them for staying strong.
Late at night, Sung-ryong visits Yul at the office. Yul is busy calling banks to get them to extend their deadlines, but it’s their last chance: If they don’t make it this time, it’s over.
Chairman Park sends his lawyer to meet Madam Jang and push for a quick response. Madam Jang tells the lawyer that she declines, but this time, Myung-suk intervenes. They both know that Chairman Park is the only one who can clean up this mess, he says, “So stop being irrational and face reality!” He storms upstairs.
The next day, Chairman Park summons Myung-suk to prison. Praising Myung-suk for thinking rationally, he urges him to protect TQ so he can inherit it one day.
Meanwhile, Chairman Park’s lawyer meets with Executive Director Jo to negotiate their deal. Chairman Park offers to settle for a 40/20 split when she agrees, and twenty percent more when he’s released. She scoffs, wondering how she can trust him, but she finally accepts the deal.
The next day, Chairman Park calls Myung-suk to the prison again. Sang-tae asks what’s going on, but Myung-suk brushes him off, and the rest of the team stares after him in concern.
At the prison, Chairman Park quietly slips Myung-suk his bank account information. Chairman Park tells him to manage the slush fund there, warning him that if he gets caught, it’s game over. Myung-suk is shocked that Chairman Park would give him such a responsibility and returns to the office sweating and nervous.
Alone in the office that night, Myung-suk trembles as he transfers his father’s slush fund to a different account. We think he’s given in to his father’s command… until the camera pans out, and we see that he’s not alone at all! Hooray, Myung-suk!
Business Operations crowds around to watch the transfer, and they gape at the sheer scale of the slush fund – 100 billion won – which Myung-suk has just transferred to Business Operations’ reserve account.
Sung-ryong and Yul visit Chairman Park to discuss the deal he offered Madam Jang, telling him that if he gives them access to his slush fund, they’ll consider. Chairman Park tells them that their so-called righteous principles are ruining the world, but Sung-ryong disagrees – it’s Chairman Park’s greed that is the true evil. Both Sung-ryong and Yul might have started out being greedy, they note, but they’ve decided to change.
A guard interrupts to tell Sung-ryong that he has a phone call. Alone with Yul, Chairman Park tells him that he’s made a foolish decision, but Yul steadfastly disagrees.
At that moment, Sung-ryong returns, suddenly commending Chairman Park’s integrity: “It turns out your Swiss bank slush fund had only 290 dollars!” He also has some interesting news: a certain person just returned a huge amount of money to Business Operations’ reserves. Chairman Park is shocked, but that’s not all – Yul also has Executive Director Jo’s voice recording, which proves that Chairman Park ordered Chief Lee’s murder.
We flash back to see Yul visiting Executive Director Jo in prison to convince her that Chairman Park was never on her side. Offering to shorten her sentence to seven years, he’d asked for her cooperation.
Next, we flash back to Sung-ryong meeting Myung-suk over Chairman Park’s Swiss account slush fund. Sung-ryong had said that it was fine if Myung-suk didn’t want to help them, but he’d have to live with himself for the rest of his shamelessly rich life. Myung-suk had sighed and said that he didn’t want to live that way at all.
Hearing all of this, Chairman Park erupts at Sung-ryong and Yul from behind the glass. Sung-ryong and Yul run out of the room, pretending to be scared, but they remind him that he still has 290 dollars in his bank. They stick their tongues out at him and escape.
Business Operations brings Yul for a celebratory round of drinks, though Myung-suk doesn’t attend. They sweetly thank Yul for his help, but when Sung-ryong calls him out on his false modesty, blowing Yul winks and kisses, they go straight back to bickering. Lol.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lee tends to Chief Lee at the hospital when he suddenly calls out to her. He’s finally awake, and they share a tearful embrace.
After the meal, Yul and Sung-ryong ask about each other’s future plans. Sung-ryong says that he’ll probably take a break from being Mr. Righteous. As for Yul, the Prosecutor’s Office has asked him to return, but he isn’t sure if that’s what he wants.
Before they part, Yul tells Sung-ryong that he’s the “world’s best Chief Kim.” Sung-ryong returns the sentiment: “You’re the best prosecutor, financial director, and glutton in the world.” They share a sweet moment… before screaming at each other at how disgustingly corny that was. They split ways, wishing never to see each other again. LOL.
In court the next day, Chairman Park makes his final statement. Declaring that some business decisions and sacrifices are unavoidable, he insists that all of his actions were for TQ itself.
Thankfully, however, the judge finds that this case shows clear corruption. The court sentences Chairman Park to twenty-two years in prison, Executive Director Jo to seven years, Director Go to four years, and Accountant Lee to three years. The audience grins in relief and triumph.
As the accused are escorted out of the courtroom, Sung-ryong smugly calls out to Chairman Park: “If you get out, don’t ever steal money from the powerless again.” When Chairman Park screams at him in fury, however, Sung-ryong jumps in surprise and hurries away, lol.
Outside the courtroom, Ga-eun thanks Prosecutor Han for the opportunity to work on such a big case. Sung-ryong joins in to give him a present: a tip for his possible next case on political corruption. Ga-eun grins.
At that moment, a familiar figure appears to say hello – it’s Boss Bae, fresh out of prison. Congratulating Sung-ryong for his victory, he asks Sung-ryong to help manage the two new nightclubs he’s just bought. The pay? Whatever Sung-ryong wants to take. Sung-ryong starts to decline… but then grins cheekily.
Meanwhile, Yul submits his resignation letter to Madam Jang, now Chairman Jang. Though Chairman Jang tries to reject it, Yul insists that he needs some time to make himself a better person.
Sung-ryong submits his own resignation to Director Chu, and the team gathers to say their teary goodbyes. Sung-ryong tries to stay his normal cheery self, but gets choked up when the atmosphere gets heavy as he thanks them for making him a decent human being. Turning to glance at his loyal team one last time, Sung-ryong leaves with a sad smile.
Ha-kyung follows him out, telling him that TQ will always welcome back its Psycho/Mr. Righteous. As he turns, she calls out to him one last time: “Chief Kim!” They share a last lingering smile before he leaves for good.
Outside the building, Sung-ryong looks up at TQ with a bittersweet expression.
One year later. The news reports that a big shot politician was arrested for corruption, and Prosecutor Han and Ga-eun watch the arrest with triumphant grins.
Myung-suk visits Chairman Park in prison, and his father still hasn’t forgiven him. Tearing up, Myung-suk tells him he’s now able to live decently by repenting for his father’s wrongs in his stead. Chairman Park just laughs at Myung-suk’s sincerity, and Myung-suk looks at him sadly.
At TQ, Chairman Jang announces that they are hiring a new CFO, accepting applications from all who prioritize transparent leadership. Meanwhile, Director Chu has been promoted to an executive position, and gets to look through intern applications of his own. Accountant Park tries to protest when he chooses someone with unimpressive specs, but Director Chu insists that they should give everyone a chance based on merit.
They’re interrupted by a phone call from Director Chu’s wife, telling him to come home early. His wife and daughter returned to Korea a month ago, Director Chu informs Accountant Park, but then notes to himself that life was more peaceful before.
We see that the Accounting intern that Director Chu chose was Kwang-sook. She greets the department with her usual gaudy attitude and notes the department’s quiet, awkward atmosphere.
At Business Operations, Ms. Uhm scolds Ki-ok for leaving tissues everywhere. When he complains that the air in the office is bad, Manager Lee notes that they should have moved to the 17th floor after all, but Ha-kyung insists that this office feels like home: “Isn’t that right, Chief Lee?” Chief Lee, who has returned to work, agrees.
Ki-ok and Hee-jin, who have started a relationship, agree that the mold is part of their family. When Kwang-sook drops in to visit, announcing her new intern job, Sang-tae proudly barges forward to embrace his girlfriend. When the Director of Ethical Management appears to tell them to quiet down, Ms. Uhm steps forward to challenge her and meets her disciplinary stick with her broom. So cute.
Ha-kyung visits Yul in his office. Now working as a public defender, he’s busy thanking whistle-blowers for their courage. Ha-kyung gives him a thumbs up, and they head out for pizza. (Omg, are they dating?)
As they eat, Ha-kyung notes that Yul only planned to volunteer as a public defender for a year. Pulling out TQ’s CFO application, she tells him that he’s the exact kind of person they need at TQ. He agrees to think about it.
Later, Chairman Jang fields interviews for the CFO position and smiles warmly to see Yul walk in for his interview.
Meanwhile in Gunsan, Sung-ryong is busy managing Boss Bae’s nightclubs, back to wearing a gaudy gangster outfit. But when he catches his underlings embezzling a little bit too much, he orders them to recite the mantra: “Don’t rip off too much! Don’t steal from the weak!” It’s okay to skim some off of their bosses, but taking anything from the staff? Sung-ryong slices a hand across his throat, and they gasp before scurrying away. He chuckles at how cute they are.
As he leaves, a man in a black suit drives up to catch him, introducing himself as a prosecutor. Sung-ryong is miffed, insisting that he’s been on excellent behavior for the past year, but the prosecutor isn’t here to apprehend Sung-ryong. He’s investigating a public enterprise accounting fraud, and needs someone to go undercover and get information.
Sung-ryong wonders why they chose him, and the prosecutor explains that both Prosecutor Han and Attorney Seo Yul recommended him personally. Hee. The prosecutor begs for his help, but Sung-ryong refuses.
…But when he asks for a third time, Sung-ryong finally turns around and grins.
Because really, was there any other way to end this show except on Sung-ryong’s smug grin? It’s amazing, in retrospect, how much ground Chief Kim managed to cover over its twenty episode run. From Sung-ryong’s initial ideological transformation, to the slow change among the side characters, and finally to its victory against TQ’s corruption, the show was always well-written and developed. But this finale felt like an especially perfect way to let us say goodbye by allowing each of its characters to choose to change and become comfortable with who they are happiest and proudest of being.
Though each of our characters ends up in a place where we might not have expected back in Episode 1, it’s clear that they’re each right at home: Puppy Yul actively pursues an unprofitable way to make himself into a better person, Myung-suk actively chooses to speak up for what he knows is right, and even our villains, like Executive Director Jo, are given avenues through which they might right their wrongs in the future. I loved that Myung-suk didn’t hesitate to choose to become a decent person in the end – while his shortsighted greed would certainly have stopped him before, now, he thought of all the people it would affect. When the camera panned out to show him giving up his father’s slush fund and working alongside Business Operations the whole time, it was a huge relief, and I genuinely felt silly for doubting him.
The fact that we understand, and are happy for, the places that each of our characters end up only speaks to the consistently thoughtful writing that has been a staple of this show. Their journeys alongside Sung-ryong pushed them to reflect on what truly made them proud, and actively become it. Both Sung-ryong and Yul were characters with lots of space to grow, and Chief Kim never shied away from that potential for growth, instead meeting it head-on by letting its characters heal each other. I’ve always adored the trope of a villain-turned-friend, but it isn’t often that you see a show that is so unabashedly willing to forgive its characters and give them a second and third chance, especially considering how easy it is for a writer to subject them to the hopelessness of their initial situations. With how much darkness there is in the real world and in some more cynical dramas, I love the idea that a show so rife with corruption and violence would instead end in such an expansively forgiving friendship – not just within the protagonist’s team, but friendship that infiltrated even the antagonists’ team.
One of my favorite aspects of this last episode, for example, was that the show “gave” Ha-kyung to Yul – not that Ha-kyung is an object for barter, of course, but it was clear from the start that Ha-kyung could easily become a mindless love interest to make Sung-ryong look better. Instead, the show let Ha-kyung forgo the romance and instead stick to her own ideals – the ideals through which Yul was able to change himself for the better. The show recognized that Sung-ryong did not “need” Ha-kyung, and that he had enough to change by himself; Yul, however, benefited infinitely by her patient influence. While a Yul/Ha-kyung relationship might have been more exciting (read: squeal-worthy), the way the show handled their relationship was much more mature and than a cheap love triangle would have been.
This might sound overdramatic, but I was truly grateful to this show for pulling me out of my own cynicism and doubt of the show’s antics. As a comedic, comfort food-type, workplace drama, Chief Kim isn’t my usually preferred genre, and I entered a little doubtful of its initially nebulous direction. But through its run, it almost felt like this drama forgave me for being jaded; it never got preachy or boring, but gently took my hand and led me out into its most joyful, funny, and emotionally weighty aspects. Obviously, the show requires some suspension of disbelief to let the events run amok, but that’s just its charm – sacrificing reality for the sake of what was more important to this show: its insistence on giving all of its characters a chance to shine and to heal. Chief Kim never even considered a cynical or less-than-happy ending: While the first half of every episode always plunged our characters into their darkest, most hopeless moments, it only made their inevitable and doubtless escape from evil’s clutches more satisfying. It’s that consistent reminder of the indefatigability of moral persistence that makes Chief Kim such a healing and important watch.
In the end, my favorite part of this drama was how clearly everyone seemed to enjoy working on it, from the writers, the directors who came up with consistently visually stunning shots, and the actors who went above and beyond to express their wacky characters. I especially loved the final illustrated ending card on the show, which shows all of the actors and staff members gathered for a group picture, with the caption: “We’re all the main characters of Chief Kim!” It’s not uncommon to have those kinds of group pictures at the end of a show’s run, but with how much the show itself emphasized the power and the necessity of teamwork, it adds a special little something to saying goodbye to this sweet little gem.
It might be time to say goodbye to Chief Kim, but Chief Kim is just getting started doing good in the world. Just as Sung-ryong will never forget the company that made him into a respectable human being, I think we’ll all hold Chief Kim and its ragtag bunch of stubborn hopefuls in our fondest memories for a long time to come.
- Chief Kim: Episode 19
- Chief Kim: Episode 18
- Chief Kim: Episode 17
- Chief Kim: Episode 16
- Chief Kim: Episode 15
- Chief Kim: Episode 14
- Chief Kim: Episode 13
- Chief Kim: Episode 12
- Chief Kim: Episode 11
- Chief Kim: Episode 10
- Chief Kim: Episode 9
- Chief Kim: Episode 8
- Chief Kim: Episode 7
- Chief Kim: Episode 6
- Chief Kim: Episode 5
- Chief Kim: Episode 4
- Chief Kim: Episode 3
- Chief Kim: Episode 2
- Chief Kim: Episode 1