Chief of Staff: Episode 1
Stylish and smart, the first episode of Chief of Staff introduces its audience to a world of politics filled with morally grey characters all fighting for power. Pulling the curtain back a little, the show highlights those in the shadows, and the schemes plotted in secret. Though the public sees the carefully constructed images of politicians and their agendas, the journey to these final products is often riddled with intrigue and deceptions. In the end, politics is a snake pit people willingly jump into all for the grand prize at the end of the battle: a 6 gram badge representing power and prestige.
Note: This is just a first episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP: 6 Gram Badge
On a street filled with protest signs and tents, our hero JANG TAE-JOON (Lee Jung-jae) jogs past the dreary scenery as he narrates his philosophy of life during an interview.
Tae-joon: “Doubt everything. Trust the situation, not the person. Don’t show your weakness. Think and analyze at all times. Don’t make choices you’ll regret later on, and use these aforementioned rules to turn ideals into reality.”
Tae-joon describes to the interviewer the duties of a chief of staff, and like all jobs, it has its ups and downs. For the 300 assemblymen in the National Assembly, roughly 2,700 staffers assist them from policymaking, speech writing, and acting as liaisons with constituencies. However, the job of an aide is less glamorous than one might imagine, as the audience sees Assemblyman SONG HEE-SEOP (Kim Gab-soo) kick, harass, and out-right bully his staffers.
The interviewer asks about Assemblyman Song, whom Tae-joon serves, and his fierce political battle against Assemblyman Jo Gap-young for floor leader of Daehan Party last year. Assemblyman Song clearly held the other in disdain, but in front of the cameras, both acted cordially while waiting for the results of the vote.
Behind the scenes, Assemblyman Song’s team racked their brains for a surefire way to win, but the best course of action they came up with only gave them a tie. Staring at the list of assemblymen, Tae-joon announced a solution.
As the assemblymen voted one by one, Assemblyman Jo’s running mate, Assemblywoman KANG SUN-YOUNG (Shin Mina), congratulated Tae-joon on helping Assemblyman Song reach this far in the election. Despite her goading, Tae-joon looked confident and told her to save her condolences for the end.
Rather than aim for the neutral votes as everyone expected, Tae-joon realized that Assemblyman Song only needed one decisive vote from the Ethics Commissioner. Using the Code of Ethical Conduct to their advantage, they could get eleven accused assemblymen suspended, which would dock nine votes from Assemblyman Jo’s camp. That would split the votes 67 to 66, and as Tae-joon predicted, Assemblyman Song won by one vote.
For the last question of the interview, the interviewer asks about Tae-joon’s dreams, and he laughs heartily in response.
On their way to their party’s general meeting at the National Assembly building, Tae-joon and Assemblyman Song listen to the radio which describes the current conflict in the Daehan Party. With the seat for party leader open, the assemblymen are arguing over the leadership system with major rifts predicted to occur between Song and the others.
The news leaves Assemblyman Song in a sour mood, but he cheers up at the meeting hall as another assemblyman reassures him that everything will be fine. However, the same assemblyman quickly runs over to Assemblyman Jo when he arrives since Jo is the most supported candidate for the next party leader.
Assemblyman Song airs his grievances to Tae-joon, complaining about the fickle politicians who change sides like reeds in the wind. Plastering on a smile, he puts out his hand for Assemblyman Jo, but the latter ignores him, leaving Assemblyman Song reeling in embarrassment.
After work, Tae-joon brings a bottle of wine to an apartment, but when no one answers the door, he lets himself in. He takes a seat in the living room that’s covered in documents, and drying her hair, Sun-young greets him.
Their night consists of flipping through files on Bugang Electronics until Sun-young asks how his interview went. Tae-joon thanks her for introducing him to the reporter, and she congratulates him on becoming famous. When he calls this just the beginning, Sun-young expresses how she expected nothing less from him, and they toss aside their work to go in for a kiss.
The next morning, the two of them get ready together for work while, on the news, Assemblyman Jo discusses his plans for the new town development bill. Though Tae-joon is watching, Sun-young abruptly turns off the television and invites him to breakfast. He declines the offer since Assemblyman Song has a breakfast meeting, but as it turns out, Sun-young can’t go either since she’s called away by Assemblyman Jo.
Tae-joon greets Assemblyman Song at the restaurant, but Secretary Lee silently warns him about the assemblyman’s cranky mood. Ignoring a call from Sun-young, Tae-joon chases the assemblyman to the bathroom where Assemblyman Song tosses him a tablet to watch the press conference calling for Song’s resignation based on allegations of election fraud.
Leading the press conference, Sun-young accuses Assemblyman Song for abusing his power and causing party disunification, but Assemblyman Song knows that someone else is pulling the strings from behind. Tae-joon puts the clues together and tells Song that Assemblyman Jo is the mastermind. Assemblyman Song berates the assemblyman for being vindictive over losing the election, and then blames Tae-joon for not tidying things up properly.
After he finishes his scolding, Secretary Lee sprays and cleans the assemblyman, but in the process, he accidently knocks down the assemblyman’s badge. Tae-joon quickly picks up and washes the badge, which landed in the assemblyman’s spit and improperly discarded cigarette, before placing it back on the assemblyman’s lapel.
Assemblyman Song warns Tae-joon of Assemblyman Jo’s ties to the prosecution, and if Jo becomes the party leader, then they’re all screwed. Assemblyman Song’s ultimate goal is the Blue House (aka, becoming President), and Tae-joon reassures the assemblyman that they won’t be bogged down here. After seeing the assemblyman off to his breakfast, Tae-joon makes a call to have the materials sent over to the prosecution.
In the National Assembly building, Tae-joon texts Sun-young who separates from the others to meet with him. She smiles at his flustered expression, but even if she wants to help him, she has no clue what Assemblyman Jo has up his sleeve either. She advises him to prepare for their second press conference and leaves with her chief of staff, GO SEOK-MAN (Im Won-hee).
Racing against the clock, Tae-joon calls Secretary YOON HYE-WON (Lee Elijah) and orders her to contact the reporters covering Assemblyman Jo. He turns around when a flock of reporters heads towards their office, and he tells Hye-won to doctor a schedule and leak it to them. Shredding the real schedule, Hye-won prints a fake, and just as planned, the reporters take the bait.
Tae-joon visits Assemblyman Jo’s office where the chief of staff reads Tae-joon’s interview out loud and mocks him. Tae-joon asks Jo’s chief of staff where the assemblyman is, but the chief of staff rebukes Tae-joon for acting high and mighty. Judging from Tae-joon’s actions, Jo’s chief of staff guesses that he must have done something dirty, but Tae-joon warns him to watch what he says.
Seok-man waltzes into Assemblyman Song’s office, and Secretary Noh doesn’t even bat an eye at his presence. He steals a few packets of supplements from their breakroom refrigerator, but Secretary Noh snatches them back from him. Distracting her with a nonexistent cockroach, Seok-man grabs even more packets and zooms out of the office.
He runs into Tae-joon in the hallway and drags him outside for a quick word. With a sigh, Seok-man informs Tae-joon to not look for Sun-young for help since they’re in a pickle, too. Assemblyman Jo is trying to replace her as spokesperson with Announcer Kim Mi-jin, and his plans to use the press to win the party leader election are already in motion.
During the meeting for the second press conference, Sun-young sits in the farthest seat away from Assemblyman Jo while Announcer Kim sits right next to him and flatters him on his looks. Despite some reservations from the group, Assemblyman Jo decides the next press conference will be an interview on Announcer Kim’s television program rather than the traditional format.
However, the person going on the show will be Sun-young, and both she and Tae-joon understand the true purpose of this role: a scapegoat in case things go south. Though Sun-young protests that there isn’t enough time to prepare, Announce Kim tells her that she’s already writing the script.
While Seok-man complains about the lack of trustworthy people in the political field, Tae-joon receives a call from his father but ignores it. Seok-man asks where Tae-joon was last night since he stopped by his empty apartment yesterday, but Tae-joon keeps silent about his relationship with Sun-young.
Noticing Tae-joon’s worried expression, Seok-man smiles at his friend’s troubles over Assemblyman Jo and mentions Tae-joon’s interview. He asks Tae-joon if he didn’t learn anything from Seok-man’s own failure since he tried to get a badge and is still paying off the interest on the loans from his campaign.
Tae-joon already knows about the obstacles even without Seok-man’s warnings, and asks for encouragement instead. As he walks away, Seok-man throws him a supplement packet—the ones he stole from the office—and cheers for Tae-joon to achieve his dream.
Announcer Kim follows Sun-young into the bathroom and comments on how she’s lost her touch. Though she tries to back Sun-young into a corner, Announcer Kim has severely underestimated her opponent, and Sun-young sees right through her bravado.
As the previous host of Announcer Kim’s current affairs program, Sun-young advises her to focus on self-improvement since it’s embarrassing for the show’s host to always follow the script and not even know the correct political terms. She advises the announcer to stop imitating her, and leaves her in the bathroom speechless.
Assemblyman Jo’s chief of staff hurriedly looks for him to inform him of the prosecution’s movement, and the news brings a smile to the assemblyman’s face. With the tide in Jo’s favor, Tae-joon and the others only have a couple of hours to stop the interview broadcast and prevent Assemblyman Jo’s announcement to run for party leader.
Tae-joon receives unpleasant news over the phone and leaves the office just as a young man enters. He’s here to interview for the internship position and introduces himself to Hye-won as HAN DO-KYUNG (Kim Dong-joon).
The prosecution has started to search and seize Tae-joon’s home, including his hometown one, and Secretary Lee updates Assemblyman Song on Tae-joon’s predicament. The assemblyman accidentally cuts himself while clipping his nails, and using the clippers as a metaphor, he says that things must stay sharp or they can hurt you. Tossing the clippers aside, Assemblyman Song wipes his blood on Tae-joon’s photograph from his interview.
Do-kyung waits in the office for his interview and explains to Secretary Noh that the assemblyman set the date himself. He asks about Tae-joon’s whereabouts since he’s a huge fan, and even takes out Tae-joon’s interview and recites his life motto from memory. Though Secretary Noh is less than impressed, Hye-won smiles at his earnestness.
Tae-joon arrives at his father’s place which has been ransacked by the prosecution, and he runs to his father’s side when his father hurts himself while cleaning. Both clearly resent the other with Tae-joon’s father loathing him for giving up his successful career as a police officer to become a politician’s lackey while Tae-joon blames his father for using his mother’s surgery money to run for office. Despite the animosity, neither side can cut ties as Tae-joon worries about his father’s injury, and his father retrieves Tae-joon’s old uniform from the trash.
News travels fast, and Sun-young calls Tae-joon to ask if he’ll be alright. Receiving a text, Tae-joon tells Sun-young that she should be worried about Assemblyman Jo instead of him. After getting a document from his police junior, Tae-joon takes it directly to the prosecution, and his audacity has the prosecutor exasperated.
Tae-joon questions the legality of their investigation and flashes the document which lists all the numbers he called. It includes hundreds of numbers from reporters, politicians, and even the chief prosecutors and judges. Since the prosecution looked into Tae-joon’s calls, they also investigated these numbers without the owners’ approvals, so Tae-joon threatens to tell the others about this illegal investigation if the prosecutor doesn’t return everything back to normal.
Tae-joon runs into Assemblyman Song on his way out, and the assemblyman is glad that Tae-joon stopped the prosecution. However, he’s still worried about the informant, but Tae-joon assures him that it won’t be a problem since he was the one who leaked the information.
Clearly impressed, Assemblyman Song can’t help but smile from ear to ear since they outwitted Assemblyman Jo. He invites Tae-joon to a meal, but Tae-joon still has unfinished business to take care of. Inside his car, Assemblyman Song picks up his clippers and comments on how throwing “it” away would be a waste.
After a call from Sun-young, Tae-joon waits for her in a parking lot, and she arrives to hand him a document on Assemblyman Jo’s proposal for a new bill. The information is just what Tae-joon needs, but aware of the repercussion this may cause, he asks if Sun-young will be fine. She tells him to destroy the assemblyman and smiles before driving away.
Tae-joon quickly sends the document to Hye-won who finds a similar German bill. As she grabs the file, it falls, and Do-kyung catches it for her. He offers his assistance, but when Hye-won asks if he knows German, he replies in the negative.
Secretary Kim returns to the office, and Do-kyung enthusiastically introduces himself. Recognizing the name, Secretary Kim asks Hye-won if he wasn’t dropped after the first round of interviews, and the news makes Do-kyung’s heart drop. Poor puppy.
Assemblyman Jo gives his speech on his new environmental law, but before they can move on, Tae-joon interjects with a question for the assemblyman. He pokes holes in the assemblyman’s proposed bill, questioning its feasibility and neutrality, and steals the spotlight from the assemblyman.
Afterwards, Jo’s chief of staff grabs Tae-joon’s lapels and accuses him for crossing the line. The assemblyman intervenes, and to his chief of staff’s shock, the assemblyman offers Tae-joon a chance to switch sides and work for him. Tae-joon laughs at the offer since he should have made it before sending the prosecution at him.
Tae-joon also prepared a present for the assemblyman, and calls Hye-won to get the press release ready. However, it’s all a bluff, but Hye-won quickly catches on and plays along to Tae-joon’s ruse. She and Secretary Kim pretend to work on the press release, and Assemblyman Jo’s secretary reports back to the others that the press release seems real.
Meanwhile, Tae-joon tails Jo’s chief of staff and spies on him as he meets with the CEO of a construction company. He passes along the information to his staff, and everyone in the office is busying looking for a connection between the assemblyman and the CEO. By the time Tae-joon returns, they have less than three hours to find the missing link.
In the middle of all the commotion, Do-kyung introduces himself to Tae-joon, his role model, but Tae-joon has no idea who he is. Adding salt to the wound, Secretary Kim mentions that Tae-joon dropped him, but apparently, the assemblyman called him personally.
With more urgent matters on hand, Tae-joon kicks Do-kyung to the lounge, but undeterred, Do-kyung continues his own investigation using the scraps of information he picked up in the office. As time starts winding down, Tae-joon as well as Sun-young start feeling the pressure since there’s less than an hour before the broadcast.
Do-kyung rushes into the office brandishing Assemblyman Jo’s autographed book for the CEO. Though it gives them a link, it isn’t strong enough to prove he donated to Assemblyman Jo’s campaign, but the book gives Tae-joon an idea. He gets his team to investigate the CEO’s previous company, and recognizing Do-kyung’s contribution, Tae-joon invites him to help.
Everyone calls the CEO’s prior employees to ask about their donations to the assemblyman while Tae-joon acts as the command tower and writes all the amounts down. The list of donors numbers 134 people and the total amount adds up to 147.5 million won (about $130,000). While they found a clear violation of the donation law, this happened seven years ago which means the statute of limitations has passed.
Tae-joon guesses that the CEO must still be donating somehow since the chief of staff met him, and orders Hye-won to fax the list to Assemblyman Jo’s office in five minutes. Even if their findings might not be incriminating by themselves, Tae-joon is going to do what he does best: bait them with a bluff.
He walks into Assemblyman Jo’s office, and their chief of staff shows off the article header they’re about to release accusing Assemblyman Song for buying his position. The chief of staff taunts Tae-joon with a USB since the article is only the bait in their grand scheme.
Once Assemblyman Jo walks out of his office, Tae-joon warns him to be careful. As he offers him a final chance, the list is faxed over, and the chief of staff’s face falls as he reads it. With only ten minutes left, Tae-joon calls Hye-won to send the press release, and the assemblyman slaps him hard across the face. Without breaking his composure once, Tae-joon asks the assemblyman what his choice will be.
The PD of the current affairs program suddenly shouts and orders his staff to turn on the channel for the National Assembly. In a sudden press conference, Assemblyman Jo announces his intentions to not run for party leader causing confused murmurs among the reporters.
This means the interview is canceled, and Sun-young tells Announcer Kim that all her efforts were for naught. In Assemblyman Song’s office, the staff watches the substitute broadcast air and sighs in relief since they won this battle.
Heading out of the office, Tae-joon bumps into Sun-young in the elevator, and they secretly hold hands in the back. After everyone leaves, they thank each other for the help, and Sun-young tells him that she likes the elevators here since they don’t have cameras.
She kisses him on the cheek, flustering Tae-joon, and he chases after her as she exits. From afar, Hye-won happens to see the two of them leave, and returns to the empty office by herself. She puts away the ointment she bought for Tae-joon, and resumes her work.
Tae-joon also continues his duties as chief of staff and picks up Assemblyman Song from his meeting. The assemblyman asks him about the information Assemblyman Jo obtained, and Tae-joon tells him that he destroyed it all. With that issue taken care of, Tae-joon wonders what they should do with Do-kyung, and the assemblyman hires him on the spot.
Tae-joon escorts the assemblyman to his next social gathering, but to his surprise, Assemblyman Song invites him in since it’s time he introduced him to the others. He follows the assemblyman to the room, and he introduces himself to the group of influential men sitting inside. One step closer to his dream of getting a badge.
The show starts off with a strong opening that introduces a handful of major players in this game of politics. From the beginning, the audience sees the schemes and battles that go on behind the scenes as politicians vie for power and use whatever means to obtain it. Behind each leader is their team composed of competent (and some less competent) aides and staff members who help their assemblywoman or -man from the shadows, and this tale is about those behind the curtain. Much like the reality of politics around the world, it’s less of a fight between “good” and “evil,” and more of a choice between the lesser of two evils. Alliances are flimsy, loyalties easily swayed, and trust seems to be a foreign concept in this world run by power and status. Though clear groups and rivalries exist, the animosity between people is more potent than the desire for collaboration, even among allying partners. Ties are made to secure one’s position, and this world based on egotistical individuals all looking out for themselves makes for an interesting look into the world of politics and the machinations brewing around every corner.
In many ways, the show is filled with stereotypical characters that can be found in most political dramas from the corrupt and bullying assemblyman to the doe-eyed newbie who’s in for a rude awakening. While Chief of Staff may not stir the pot regarding its genre’s format in this first outing, I don’t think that’s necessarily a weakness since you don’t always have to tell a new story for a show to be interesting. Moreover, there’s quite a few other merits that make it a very enjoyable watch. For one, the directing feels assured which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given his prior credits, and though the show consists mostly of people talking and outwitting each other, the director does an excellent job building tension in a scene and holding it throughout the show. The writing also felt tight in this first episode, and despite the shorter history, the writer’s first original script was able to convince Lee Jung-jae to return to dramaland—and if the first episode was any indication, it’s not surprising why.
Lee Jung-jae is amazing as Tae-joon, the smart and slightly brash chief of staff who harbors dreams of wearing a badge one day. He pulls off the charming yet menacing aura around Tae-joon that gives his character the weight it needs to be able to pull off all the bluffs and baiting. In less capable hands—or even in a younger actor—it would have been more difficult to sell Tae-joon and his tricks because what makes his bluffs work is the air Lee Jung-jae brings to the character. Tae-joon’s bravado feels justified, and when he makes a threat, there’s a bite behind his words. He comes across as intimidating without having to raise his voice or even glare at someone. His piercing gaze that doesn’t waver is all Tae-joon needs to sell his bluffs, and most of the time, it does the trick. However, it’s not just Tae-joon by himself that keeps the team afloat. He has the help of Hye-won who seems to operate on the same wavelength as him, and the new addition to the team, Do-kyung, might become an asset by bringing a fresh perspective into the group.
Besides Lee Jung Jae, Shin Mina is alluring and plays the freshman assemblywoman with poise and strength. She has chemistry with her costar (I doubt that surprised anyone), and I’m already interested in seeing how their relationship develops. I really liked the choice of the two characters already seeing each other in secret because I didn’t want a serious political drama to be weighed down by unnecessary romantic hijinks. This also gives Sun-young a bigger role in the story than being relegated to an object of desire that needs to be pursued by the lead, and since she’s an assemblywoman, this already changes the power dynamics within their relationship. I’m also glad to see female characters sprinkled throughout the show because it really emphasizes the moments when the room is filled with only men. This then becomes a deliberate choice by the show’s creators to send a message about gender and politics in more subtle ways. In general, the casting is great without any obvious weak links or head scratches. From the leads to the supporting actors, the show has a terrific cast, and everyone seems to fit their role. Kim Gab-soo is amazing as always, depicting the selfish Assemblyman Song with some humorous flaws that makes his character feel less two-dimensional. Kim Dong-joon, who initially was a question mark for me since I only saw him in one minor role, turned out to be a good choice and sells the energetic and innocent feeling of his character well. The list can go on, but all in all, the first episode hit all the right beats and was an interesting introduction to this world of scheming, backstabbing, and politicking.
- Premiere Watch: Chief of Staff
- Lee Jung-jae gets egg-spattered for Chief of Staff
- JTBC’s Chief of Staff shows us those who will change the world in new teaser
- Character posters for the movers and shakers in JTBC’s Chief of Staff
- Lee Elijah, Kim Dong-joon join Lee Jung-jae, Shin Mina in JTBC’s Aide
- Lee Jung-jae considers dramaland comeback with Life on Mars writer