Naiveté is never a virtue, and a person like Oh Kyung Sook wouldn’t last two days in the ruthless field of politics. She is the queen that the efforts of the “Queenmaker” are centered around. And she fell so short of expectations. The way Oh Kyung Sook was written was as a woman with great grit and determination who was unstoppable when it came to the quest for justice. Admirable qualities that we wish more politicians across the world possessed. But what irked us about her was that she seemed to possess no guile to speak of. The fact of the matter is that politicians are not likable people when you get to know them up close.
Even the most righteous politician is always reeling under the stress of the expectations placed on him. Combine this with the power that occasionally gets to their heads and the imposter syndrome that constantly overpowers them, along with the added issue of never being able to be their true self, even in front of their most loved ones, and we have people who are not able to present their most likable selves at all times. They tend to reserve it for public appearances. This cocktail of pressure doesn’t discriminate between genders. That is why it would have been so beautiful to see Oh Kyung Sook live up to this challenge. An average woman is used to wearing many hats on a daily basis. We could have seen the contrast in the candidates when they dealt with similar situations differently. Baek Jae Min might have resorted to a blame game, and Oh Kyung Sook would have found a far more elegant solution with the help of Hwang Do Hee. This could have established for the audience who the superior candidate was. But it was an opportunity lost.
The thing is, in a world that has very clearly defined roles for women, the price they pay for their ambition is always greater than that of men. The world wants men to be ambitious and women to be domestic. Even though Oh Kyung Sook’s husband and son wholeheartedly supported her ambition, it is hard to imagine that the rest of the world followed suit just like that. While we really want a world in the future where political candidates are not judged by their gender, in the current scenario, it would have made for a far more gritty drama if the writer had remembered that the depiction of misogyny does not equal misogynistic representation of women.
However, that is still not Oh Kyung Sook’s biggest drawback. It is the fact that she was not written as a queen who could lead a whole city but as a king’s wife. As offensive as that sounds, give us a second to explain why we said that. In sageuk dramas (Korean historical dramas) or even the modern-day Cinderella tales where the male protagonist is a chaebol heir or a rich CEO, their love interest is written the exact same way as Oh Kyung was: as “not like other girls.” She is strong and hates putting in the effort to look good, and that is her charm that wins hearts. When Oh Kyung Sook tore away the corset during the live debate, she declared that she was not an ordinary woman. And this is the biggest downfall of the series: the hate against the ordinary woman and the perception that they are frivolous and weak. This is not explicitly stated, but it is clear enough in the conduct of Kyung Sook, whose conduct is supposed to be that of a “strong woman.” The thing is, what sets a woman apart as a leader is her ability to bring compassion to the position of power. Where was this USP of Oh Kyung Sook? Her treatment of the woman in the embezzlement case is no excuse because compassion doesn’t mean a lack of common sense. It always disappoints us when women don’t write women well because they cannot get rid of the need for male approval.
“Queenmaker” is a purely fictional story; therefore, the makers could have taken any number of creative liberties or made any number of references for their characters. They could have based Oh Kyung Sook on Jacinda Ardern, Hillary Clinton, or even Sheryl Sandberg. There is no dearth of references, and seeing their adaptation in an Asian setting would have been so beautiful. It is even more infuriating that we did not get a single quotable line from her. She is a strong-headed lawyer who has spent 15 years fighting for labor rights and women’s empowerment, yet she couldn’t give us one good dialogue that would have cemented her as the insightful leader we all need.
Think about it this way: the entire mayoral race, as depicted in “Queenmaker,” was about deciding who had the cleanest image. It was a circus about who could paint the other as a greater villain, to show them as being worthy of the public’s love in comparison. Let us just assume that Seo Min Jung was not as corrupt. How would Oh Kyung Sook have won over her then? Moving to Baek Jae Min, let us imagine that he was not a sexual offender. What would Oh Kyung Sook have over him to get her elected?
Oh Kyung Sook was just better than a sex offender and an embezzler, but she never once proved why she was a good leader otherwise. If Baek Jae Min and Seo Min Jung weren’t as corrupt, what were their character flaws as politicians and leaders that Oh Kyung Sook could make up for? The fact that this aspect was never explored in the series “Queenmaker” is completely unforgivable. The makers of the series could have let go of at least one of the many accusatory subplots to establish this point; it would have really helped with Kyung Sook’s credibility. But right now, we have literally nothing at all.