I think this is the first drama I’ve watched in a while where I’ve witnessed essentially no complaints from the viewers about anything. Nada. There are no complaints about the story, there are no complaints about the characters, there are no complaints about the actors, there are no complaints about the chemistry. Everything is in perfect tandem with each other.
But despite that, I’m starting to feel an inkling of impatience. I’m not sure if there’s one particular reason for it, but I think it’s because I find Cha Ji-heon a wee bit exhausting to keep up with.
Let’s start with what I love.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Noh Eun-seol. I think she may be my favorite Kdrama lead female ever. I like her because she’s just so sound and rational. She’s oddly realistic and frank, in ways that are sure to invite trouble, but she is fearless against trouble. I think she’s the antithesis of the hierarchy-obsessed, manner-obsessed female characters that we so often see in Kdramas. She doesn’t go out of her way to invite trouble, but she does rebuff and assert herself very easily, which makes this story extremely quick-paced.
In situations where we usually expect younger characters/female characters to bow down to elders, those in higher positions, Eun-seol flips that around and stands her ground. It’s weird, because I find myself thinking that her character is unnaturally outspoken in a way that makes her kind of Western. I know that outspokenness isn’t a quality of being “Western,” and there are outspoken people all over the world, but specific to Korean dramas, they’re usually not painted very in-depth, or they’re not really outspoken in a way that helps them maneuver their own lives. There are certain qualifiers for their outspokenness, and I’m mostly talking about women: ie, they are outspoken, but once someone older, higher in ranking speaks down to them, they are “put back in their place.” Noh Eun-seol treads her grounds very delicately and doesn’t spurn her elders/employers in situations where she knows she has to be deferential, but she feels no need to comply with those who do her wrong.
One of my biggest Kdrama pet peeves is the relationship between the mother of the son of the love interest and the love interest herself. These side storylines drive me fucking BATTY for these reasons: the mother always assumes, without a doubt, that the love interest is not good enough for her son; the mother always assumes that the love interest is in the wrong, no matter what the situation; the love interest, after being yelled at by the mother, will never talk back; the love interest will start assuming she is in the wrong. I’ve seen way too many of these scenes to have hoped that it would be anything different with Protect the Boss but Noh Eun-seol really defies my expectations by miles and miles. There is absolutely no reason for Mu-won’s mother to be as big a mighty bitch as she is to Eun-seol, nor does Na-yoon’s mother have any reason to interfere, but they both are and they both do, so it’s nice to see Eun-seol give them both the smackdown, and to use leverage against them.
Another reason why I love Noh Eun-seol is that she’s super practical. I would say that episodes 5-8 are the episodes where Ji-heon has made his feelings towards Eun-seol really clear and where he’s starting to be proactive about courting her. This is partly where my exhaustion with Ji-heon comes from.
Up until about episode 7, Eun-seol made it clear that she didn’t like Ji-heon romantically, but she wants to be a good secretary and to perform her duties well. Eun-seol’s financial situation is that she wants to be made into a permanent employee, which guarantees her a higher wage and benefits. While Ji-heon’s romantic interest in her creates problems for everybody, most of the problems fall on Eun-seol.
It’s already a given that Ji-heon is a hugely demanding boss because of his anxieties and lifestyle demands, but now that he’s throwing romance into the mix, it’s almost impossible to meet his standards for anything. To be fair, I haven’t really read any negative reaction to this across the blogosphere, so it may just be me, but I think that Ji-heon’s persistence became a huge annoyance to Eun-seol in that it prevented her from doing work.
Not only did she have to take care of his day-to-day needs as a boss, she had to take care of his personal needs as a person with anxiety, AND she had to deal with his romantic interests as well. Up to a certain point, he mixed all three and started to rely on her in ways that she was not supposed to be relied on, in ways that crossed way over the professional/personal divide, and that’s not fair to Eun-seol.
That’s not fair because she has to bear the brunt of what happens if there are people who are not happy with Ji-heon’s romantic interests in her. You can see inklings of Eun-seol’s interest in Ji-heon starting in episode 8, but before that, having to deal with Ji-heon’s interest in her was a burden that she felt uncomfortable with taking on, and that’s completely understandable. Her position at the company is in jeopardy if her superiors are unhappy with her work, and if anybody feels the romantic interest will cause image problems with the company, all the more reason to fire her. Noh Eun-seol is the only person with anything to lose in a potential relationship with Ji-heon, yet Ji-heon doesn’t recognize this and frantically clings onto her.
I don’t find myself forgiving of Ji-heon just because of his personal anxieties, because while Noh Eun-seol made it her responsibility to help him grow out of his anxieties, that was strictly for work and it’s not fair for her to have to carry it over into her personal life, and she’s made that very clear. She said in one of her conversations with Myung-ran that she loves herself the most, which doesn’t make her selfish, it just makes her practical. It’s not fair for Ji-heon to make declarations that she can’t possibly leave him because he personally needs her by his side at all time. All of his courting is painted as a romantic gesture, but it’s exhausting to watch because he just doesn’t get what his persistence can do to Eun-seol. He refuses to go to work until she returns his affections. We obviously know that he won’t actually do that, and we know that she will eventually like him, but given that Ji-heon has so much power in his position and that she Eun-seol has so little, it’s easy to be frustrated as his childish persistence. Never mind the fact that their courtship was extremely one-sided at that phase, he did it with the belief that if he just did it repeatedly, she’ll eventually relent, and that’s just not the way to go, bro. Say no, no, no, until you say yes?
Obviously I’m a fan of the pairing so I’m rooting for them in the long run, but I think it’s realistic for Eun-seol to dissuade Ji-heon of his interests because like she’s said, she has to worry about him like a mother would a child. And that doesn’t make a good relationship. Yeah I think his dogged persistence is cute in a way, but it’s also tinged with romanticism and a relationship like this in real life is probably annoying to watch. I can understand Eun-seol’s hesitation in returning his affections.
As for the rest of the drama, I’m liking the zippy pace and the quick dialogue. One thing that this drama is really good at doing is keeping the ball rolling so that audiences don’t have to dwell on a plot point that they know will take forever and thus guess the outcome of. For example, the plot point of the parents getting involved with their children’s love lives: that usually takes forever to get through, and is thrown in to either prolong a story or to progress it when nothing else can serve as an obstacle. We know that it’s going to cause conflict, the son will try to step in, nobody will be successful, lots of tears will be shed, and nothing is ever really accomplished because we know that the couple will get together regardless. Protect the Boss jumps right over that because you’ve got a lead who will speak up against it, thwart all those unnecessary threats, and then we move along to the next plot point, which is good. It keeps the drama fresh.
Another thing that I’m enjoying so much is the rapport between all the leads:
Ji-heon’s interactions with Eun-seol
Ji-heon’s interactions with Mu-won
Mu-won’s interactions with Eun-seol
Mu-won’s interactions with Na-yoon
Eun-seol’s interactions with Na-yoon
Eun-seol’s interactions with Ji-heon’s dad
Yes there are antagonists in the story in the generic sense, but I like that the four main leads have relatively little antagonism towards each other, because it’s sort of nice to see all the leads be friends with each other. I think it’s SO freaking cute that Na-yoon is basically dying for friends and will befriend Eun-seol and go out to have drinks and talks with her, even if they playfully hate each other. There’s no cattiness, which writers so often feel the need to introduce between two females who strive for the same thing, and that’s nice. I will go as far as to say that I hope by the end of this drama, Na-yoon will be BFFs with Eun-seol and Myung-ran because she is freaking hilarious. Like, hilariously meek and much too good-natured and straightforward for a second lead. It’s soooo nice a change.
The only blank I’m drawing on is with Mu-won, because I still am a little unclear about his intentions. I think part of this can be attributed to Jae-joong’s acting. It’s taking a little longer for him to draw out his character for the audiences than it is for the other three actors. At first I was confused as to whether he really likes Na-yoon, or if he was playing with her just because she doesn’t like him. And then I wasn’t sure if he really enjoys Eun-seol because she is indeed a fun person, or if he’s using her to get to Ji-heon.
All of these things are a lot clearer now, and we get a better picture of how his character is extremely stifled by his family, and how his wants and fears may not be his own wants and fears, but his mother’s. I think Jae-joong’s weaknesses as an actor are revealed a little bit more as the series progresses, but they don’t disrupt my enjoyment of his scenes, and I enjoy his on-camera persona. I do think that Jae-joong is more comfortable in his scenes with Ji Sung than he is with the ladies, and I really attribute this to the fact that he’s nurtured a more easy-going rapport with male colleagues in front of the camera due to his time in a boy group. (That fight scene was one of the funniest things I’ve seen.) He’s stiffer and more forced when he’s acting with Wang Ji-hye and Choi Kang-hee.
But other than that, this drama is a lively and problem-free watch. Long live Ji Sung and his broccoli mop.
(Crossposted from evacuatewithstyle)