Why Her?: Episodes 1-2 (First Impressions)
Yet another legal drama has dropped in dramaland, but this one focuses on a powerful female lawyer who has clawed her way to the top of a prestigious law firm. Her cutthroat approach hasn’t earned her many friends, so when an incident tarnishes her polished reputation, a lot of people are happy to see her demoted to an adjunct law professor while she repairs her public image.
EPISODES 1-2 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I’ve watched my fair share of legal dramas recently, and even though I feel a bit burned out on the genre, I decided to watch this one for one reason, and one reason only: Hwang In-yub. Ever since he rocketed into fame following his screen-stealing role as the second lead in True Beauty, he has been on my radar as someone to watch — and crush on. While he may be the leading man in this drama, there’s nary a sign of In-yub until the last fifteen minutes of Episode 1.
Instead, the story first takes its time introducing our leading lady OH SOO-JAE (Seo Hyun-jin). She’s cutthroat, but despite being the highest-earning lawyer at the prestigious TK Law Firm, she has more enemies than allies. A lot (well, most) of the animosity stems from good ol’ fashioned sexism — because women with ambition who don’t smile on command are “bitches.” She’s up for a promotion as managing partner of the law firm, and as a group of (all) men weigh the candidates’ qualifications, Soo-jae’s gender is seen as a negative. It would be far too progressive of them to have a female managing partner.
Soo-jae also “came from nothing” and was merely a high school graduate — someone who passed the Korean bar exam without attending law school. (Note: this practice was eliminated in 2017, and now all future South Korean lawyers must attend law school.) And sure enough, in a flashback to her early days at TK Law Firm, we see a meeker version of Soo-jae handing out papers at a meeting and then being told to leave the conference room because she wasn’t qualified to sit at the big boy table.
Soo-jae’s biggest competitor for the managing partner position is MIN YOUNG-BAE (Kim Sun-hyuk). His ineptitude is palpable, but his Y-chromosome makes him 99.999% more likely to get the position. And yet, that .001% worries him, so he tries to bribe Soo-jae’s right-hand woman, associate lawyer SONG MI-RIM (Lee Joo-woo), into putting in a good word for him when she’s called in to give her opinion on Soo-jae’s qualifications for the position. Soo-jae, however, plays dirtier and eliminates Young-bae as a contender entirely.
One of their firm’s biggest clients is Chairman HAN SUNG-BEOM (Lee Kyung-young playing another corrupt rich guy). His company, Hansu Group, is selling off its subsidiary Hansu Bio Chemical, which is run by Sung-beom’s nephew HAN GI-TAK (Jeon Jae-hong). Soo-jae and Young-bae were placed in charge of handling Hansu Bio’s acquisition, but Young-bae took bribes from two of the three potential buyers and tried to sway Gi-tak away from selling Hansu Bio to SP Partners, despite them being the strongest buyer.
Soo-jae has their boss CHOI TAE-KOOK (Heo Jun-ho) on the phone when she exposes Young-bae’s backdoor dealings, and he’s promptly dropped from the acquisition case. But she doesn’t fully secure the managing director position for herself until she has her team swoop in and raid Gi-tak’s office for the files that he’s dodgily avoided handing over — a sure sign that he and Sung-beom are up to something illegal. Now that she’s in possession of these documents, Tae-kook has no other option but to promote her and try to keep her on a short leash.
Soo-jae’s next client is actor-turned-assemblyman AHN KANG-WON (Lee Tae-sung), who has been accused of raping PARK SO-YOUNG (Hong Ji-yoon), a bar hostess. Soo-jae meets with So-young and her lawyer, and at first So-young appears to be a possible spurned gold-digging ex-lover.
Not only does her “cheap attitude” seem atypical for a rape victim, but she’s also wearing a pair of shoes that match the exact pair that Kang-won gave to Soo-jae when he was pursuing her. This suggests there might have been — at least at some point — a reciprocated romance between the assemblyman and the bar hostess, who claims they never met prior to the night of the incident.
It’s been well established that Soo-jae fights dirty in order to win on behalf of her clients, but this particular exchange between Soo-jae and So-young was uncomfortable to watch. So-young’s lawyer is useless, and unable to counter-attack Soo-jae’s ability to discredit So-young’s version of events. Soo-jae even low-key blackmails So-young — threatening to tell her younger sister about her profession — in order to get So-young to back down. The longer the exchange goes on, the more apparent it is that So-young is a victim, but — as Soo-jae reminds Mi-rim later — So-young is not their client.
Later that night, So-young falls from the law firm’s rooftop — a scene that jump-scared five years off my life. The police rule her death a suicide, but the public’s opinion is fueled by misinformation and rumors stemming from Soo-jae and So-young’s public dispute in the law firm’s hallway. The media reports that Soo-jae is responsible for So-young’s suicide, and the negative publicity concerns the firm’s other lawyers, who ask Tae-kook to delay her promotion.
At first, Tae-kook seems mostly unswayed by their opinions, but he doesn’t take kindly to Soo-jae interrupting the meeting and asserting that she is the backbone of TK Law Firm. Ultimately, it’s her hubris that prompts Tae-kook to send her on a forced “vacation” and remind her that he is the boss.
She’s demoted (no managing partnership) and sent to work at Seojung University Law School, where she can rebuild her image. In the meantime, Tae-kook appoints his own son, CHOI JOO-WAN (Ji Seung-hyun), as the next managing partner.
On Soo-jae’s first day as an instructor, she leaves her students waiting for almost a full hour before showing up to class. She writes, “I will never send my client to jail” on the board, and then promptly walks out of the classroom — which is unnecessarily dramatic in real life but great for television.
GONG CHAN (Hwang In-yub), one of the students, follows her outside, and when she walks past him, he’s relieved that she doesn’t recognize him. But is he referring to their recent random encounter, where she slapped him out of misdirected anger, or something else?
A series of flashbacks to a case early in Soo-jae’s career — like waaaaay early, when she was still meek — suggests that she and Chan have a shared history. However, the client that Soo-jae defended against rape and murder charges was named KIM DONG-GOO (Lee Yoo-jin), not Gong Chan…
Chan’s interest in Soo-jae causes him to be one of only two students who did not transfer out of her class. While Soo-jae worries the course will be canceled, the other remaining student, CHOI YOON-SANG (Bae In-hyuk) — Tae-kook’s youngest son who received tutoring from Soo-jae — cryptically assures Chan that Soo-jae is not the type to allow the class to be canceled. Sure enough, she sends out a mass text announcing that the number one student in her class will receive an internship at TK Law Firm and tuition money, which sends everyone rushing back to her classroom.
Although she lost the position as a managing partner, Soo-jae refuses to let Tae-kook quietly cut ties with her. So later, at the Seojung University Law School Night where Tae-kook is a guest speaker, she uses the files she acquired (and hid) from the raid of Gi-tak’s offices to leverage a deal and retain the Hansu Bio case. The contents of those files must be seriously juicy.
Her success, however, is tainted when a former chief prosecutor and current professor at Seojung University SEO JOON-MYUNG (Kim Young-pil) sexually harasses her. Chan shows up to be her white knight, but Chan, who has a strong desire to seek out justice for all, is baffled that she’s not inclined to demand an apology from Joon-myung. Instead, she apologizes to Chan when she recognizes him as the man she slapped in misdirected rage after Tae-kook sent her on “vacation.”
Joon-myung can’t keep his hands to himself, and the next day NA SE-RYUN (Sohn Ji-hyun), one of Soo-jae’s students, publicizes that Joon-myung sexually harassed her at the after-party. Unfortunately, her only witness recants his statement, and the situation becomes a classic case of he-said-she-said, with everyone assuming the upstanding professor is telling the truth. Poor naive Se-ryun, they all think, she must have misunderstood the situation and is making a big deal out of nothing.
To make matters worse, all the professors — even the female ones — want Se-ryun to drop out so they can avoid a scandal. Soo-jae remarks that the school is dirtier and more corrupt than TK Law Firm, but her opinion does not translate to sympathy when Se-ryun comes to her for help. Instead, she advises Se-ryun to keep her head down and focus on obtaining her goal.
This is the second time Soo-jae has advised a victim of sexual harassment to just ignore the atrocities inflicted upon her in favor of using her anger as fuel for her pursuit of a “dream,” which makes me wonder: what is Soo-jae’s dream? And is her current coldness when faced with victimized women the result of her own trauma that she’s used to fuel her own personal agenda? Given that she turned down both Sung-beom and Assemblyman LEE IN-SOO’s (Jo Young-jin) offer of her own law practice in exchange for the files she’s holding hostage, it makes me wonder if her own dream — and possible motivation — has something specific to do with Tae-kook and/or his law firm.
Chan overhears her exchange with Se-ryun and lets slip that he’s disappointed that she has “changed,” but he dodges her curiosity by pointing out that her inactivity is only going to cause more victims. She has more power than Se-ryun, and Soo-jae should be using her anger to help defend her student. Soo-jae assumes Chan is passionately defending Se-ryun because he has a crush on Se-ryun, so she advises him to find his own evidence.
…And so he does, with a little help from the rest of Group 8, which is composed of Chan, Yoon-sang, and the other students with the lowest test scores in the class. They band together and acquire additional evidence, including incriminating CCTV footage, but when they present it at Se-ryun’s disciplinary hearing, the professors — and Joon-myung’s wife — dismiss it as inadmissible because it was obtained illegally.
But then Soo-jae shows up with her own flash drive. She advises that all the people not personally involved with the case should leave the room — which we know is her code for “I’m about to drop a bomb” — but Joon-myung’s wife insists the student hearing remain public.
With a shrug and a “I warned you,” Soo-jae plays the CCTV footage of Joon-myung sexually harassing her. She assures them that, as the victim, she was able to obtain the footage legally.
Even when he’s confronted with the evidence, Joon-myung doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong (classic “she was asking for it” mentality). His wife is equally absurd, choosing to direct her anger at Soo-jae, the victim.
She accuses Soo-jae of enacting revenge against her husband because he bested her when she was a public defender. Given her poor performance in that particular case, people were surprised TK Law Firm hired her, and Joon-myung’s wife sneers that everyone assumed Soo-jae slept with Tae-kook to get the job. Soo-jae remains unaffected by the accusations and whips out a set of blackmail photos. Looks like she was cheating on Joon-myung. Man, they are quite the pair.
Chan joins Soo-jae on the elevator, where he explains that he didn’t defend Se-ryun because he likes her. Instead, he confesses Soo-jae is the one he likes, and he boldly grabs her hand. Given all of the lack of consent that has occurred this episode, it’s a gutsy move that I don’t find particularly squee-worthy, but Soo-jae appears somewhat curious, especially when he once again hints at their shared past and says that he kept his promise.
Through more flashbacks we learn that Joon-myung was the prosecutor in Dong-goo’s case, and when Soo-jae lost the trial, Dong-goo was sentenced to ten years in prison. Following the sentencing, Soo-jae held his hand and made him promise to become someone powerful.
After a grueling year in prison, the real killer was caught, and Dong-goo was released. Despite his proven innocence, his step-mother still blamed him for his step-sister’s death. So with no family to return to, Dong-goo and two of his cellmates, GU JO-GAB (Jo Dal-hwan) and SO HYUNG-CHIL (Lee Kyu-sung), became a found family and built their fish market restaurant from the ground up.
Most importantly, Dong-goo changed his name to Gong Chan (there’s no mention of plastic surgery, so I guess we’re chalking the new face up to puberty), and began studying for law school. When asked during his application interview why he aspired to be a lawyer, he said he “wanted to find someone.”
Well, it looks like he found her, but I’m not sure how I feel about this romance subplot. Even when you take away the teacher-student relationship, Soo-jae feels… unattainable. She’s a ballbuster, and we’ve seen that she’s capable of using and disposing of men infinitely more powerful than Chan. I’m not saying I won’t eventually begin rooting for a romance between these two (I like both characters separately), but for now the professional and emotional gap between them is too wide for me to begin shipping them as a couple.
Instead of the romance, I feel compelled to continue this drama in order to find out more about Soo-jae’s backstory. She’s such an interesting and morally ambiguous character. As a woman, I applaud her strength when faced with rampant sexism, but she also has an agenda — a personal vendetta, perhaps? — that causes her to act in ways that even she finds regrettable.
Her past is a mystery, and I really want this drama to show us her evolution from a naive and incompetent public defense attorney to the powerful woman she is today. Dear drama gods, please don’t drop the ball on this character.