What we were expecting to be a Korean version of Mad Men turned out to be a crash course in ruthless office politics. It is no secret that the life of an ad agency is all-consuming. You are always thinking about advertisements, even when you are off duty. It is the process of creating art that appeals to the widest possible consumer base. Even a niche product must have mass appeal, and everything in the ad must be something never seen before, even though the brief and the requirements remain constant. The entire world consumes the exact same media, but there are very few who can interpret it in a different way. Sadly, if the client doesn’t get the interpretation, he ends up choosing the run-of-the-mill idea, and creativity is sacrificed at the altar of appeal. Another absolute tragedy of advertising is that, like any other industry, it is not the most capable person who climbs the corporate ladder; it is the one who says the right things and knows the right people. There are no timings in advertising; your work life is your real life, and people use all their mental faculties to decide what sells and what doesn’t without any consideration for what is genuine and what is fake.
Agency is the story of people who lived by these rules until a time came when they were forced to acknowledge the damage they were doing to their human sides. At the very end of Agency, it all boils down to the winner between right and wrong. Both Go Ah In, and Choi Chang Soo have been ruthless and cold in their pursuit of power. But the fundamental difference between them is that Go Ah In has worked to push herself higher, whereas Choi Chang Soo has worked to bring others down. We see a bit of both happening in every office in the corporate world, and it can be argued that seldom does the best man win. But we have to consider whether there is long-term success in being a good person, as experienced by Go Ah In and Kang Hanna.
Does Go Ah In Get The Promised Ad Revenue?
Frankly, Go Ah In got the promised revenue the moment Woowon resumed its advertisements with VC Communications. But as she herself had said in the beginning, she “did not come this far to only come this far.” The game has gone way beyond proving a point about her competence. It is about how far they will go to do the right thing, and in this case, Go Ah In finally did that by rising above the things going on around her. For the longest time, she had placed her worth in how well she did at her job, and that meant that she never walked away from toxic situations, because she wanted to win them over. However, she finally decides not to do anything and lets the other people’s incompetence and dirty schemes bring them down.
Han Soo was always a bad boyfriend, but he took it a step further when he hired a woman as a model with whom he had cheated on his fiancée. This might have just gone unnoticed, except that she was recently involved in a drunk driving accident, and it was odd that such a person was hired for VC Communications, who are usually big on outward displays of morals and ethics. Ah In catches on that something else is the matter, and she asks for the woman and Han Soo to be kept under surveillance. True to her suspicions, she finds proof of their affair. But just because Ah In is not coming up with a scheme of her own does not mean that she won’t milk the mistake as much as she can. She lets the woman be hired, and when VC comes under criticism for it, she and Hanna make their move. Along with an apology from Hanna, it is communicated to the public that this was Han Soo’s decision. Though it is correct, Han Soo has neither been competent nor likeable; therefore, he just lets Chang Soo take the fall for it. An indignant Chang Soo prepares to leave the office, but force of habit makes him blame Ah In instead of acknowledging that he let his boot-licking ways get in the way of genuine ability, and this is the result of that. Chang Soo could just be pegged as a man surviving in the corporate world by doing what he knows best, but we have always hated his smile. If only it wasn’t so obnoxious, the following scene would have made more sense. He yells that Ah In is a mental health patient who is addicted to her drugs. No doubt the prosecutor in Chairman Kim’s case got him that information. Chang Soo makes a desperate last-ditch attempt to play on the stigma of mental health, but it backfires on him when the entire office comes out in support of Ah In by revealing that they even take therapy and medication. It is the first time Chang Soo is ashamed of his actions and apologizes to Ah In. He tells her that he wants to leave the industry altogether. We would have believed it if he had shown some conscience throughout the episodes. For now, we think that he is just saving face.
However, Chang Soo is the lesser of the evils plaguing Ah In and Hanna. They still have to deal with Han Soo, and this falls upon his sister. Ever since Ah In helped her get back with Young Woo, Hanna has learned to take her wisdom with her. Ah-In teaches her how to make a presentation in a way that will make people listen. Hanna does exactly that and reveals how her brother was responsible for the losses faced by VC Communications due to his temperamental hiring decision. That is all the ammunition her grandfather needed to not cast his vote for Han Soo as the vice chairman, and once he does that, the rest of the board follows suit. But Han Soo’s defeat proves beneficial for Ah In in an unexpected way. The vice chairman position is filled by the CEO, and Ah In steps into his shoes. Ah In has not only won the bet to increase the revenue, but she has also protected her job and even advanced in it. She was nobody’s puppet and the master of her own fate.
At the end of Agency, we see that a year has passed. Hanna has smoothed things out with her father and is likely working hard to make the company the best on the continent, as she had promised him. She must also be happily dating Young Woo since she publicly announced their relationship. Han Soo has likely been demoted somewhere, and his engagement has also ended.
As for our heroine, Go Ah In, she is happy. She quit VC on her terms and is running her own ad agency with her team. We believe that she is living happily with her mother, probably dating Jae Hoon, and being content for once in her life. She is finally learning to enjoy her work instead of letting it completely define her, and this has been a long time coming. We are truly happy for her.
Agency was a rather addictive series. We wish they had shown the struggles of the creative aspect of things more instead of them just being a means to an end to office conflicts. A petty side of us also feels happy that copywriters were given more importance than designers for once. Usually, the opposite happens in an ad agency. For all that it does and doesn’t do, this drama deserves a place in the K-drama Hall of fame, and we hope it gets that soon.