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Chief of Staff is a Korean Drama. The first ten-episode season ran in June and July 2019, and the second ten-episode season ran in November and December of that year. Outside of Korea, the series ran on Netflix.

Jang Tae-joon (Lee Jung-jae, who followed this series up by starring in Squid Game) is chief of staff to Song Hee-seop, an assemblyman in South Korea's National Assembly (Parliament). Song, the floor leader for the Daehan Party, has ambitions of becoming party leader, and, eventually, President. However, Song has a powerful rival in Assemblyman Jo Gap-yeong, who also wants to be party leader. Jo is supported by Assemblywoman Kang Seon-yeong, who is herself ambitious and who serves as party spokesman. As it happens, Tae-joon and Seon-yeong are dating.

Other characters in the series are Han Do-kyeong, a doe-eyed intern who still manages to impress everyone in Assemblyman Song's office with his hard work, Yoon Hye-won, a staffer in Song's office who is in unrequited love with Tae-joon, and Jo Gap-yeong, another Daehan assemblyman who is Song's arch-rival.

Season 2 is set barely two months after Season 1 ends. The intensely ambitious Song Hee-seop has just become Minister of Justice but has his sights set on the presidency. In an effort to set himself up for a presidential run he is moving to stock the prosecution with loyalists, so he has put Tae-joon on the Prosecution Reform Committee. Tae-joon, however, clearly has his own agenda, which is soon revealed; now that he's an assemblyman he plans to use his position to destroy the whole corrupt cabal from within. Meanwhile, Kang Seon-yeong doesn't believe that story that her chief of staff Go Seok-man killed himself, and is insisting on a more thorough investigation.


Tropes:

  • Abortion Fallout Drama: In the first season, Seon-yeong pays for the medical care of a young woman, Soo-min, who got a back alley abortion. This gets her in a lot of trouble when Song Hee-seop causes the scandal to come to light.
  • Aside Glance: The first episode ends with Song, who is impressed with the quality of service he's getting from Tae-joon, introducing him to some party bigwigs. Tae-joon greets the bigwigs and says "I am Jang Tae-joon," then looks straight at the camera.
  • As You Know:
    • A lot of this in the first episode. When Song complains about having to go to the Samil Association, another character helpfully pipes up that "It's a social gathering of former four-term assemblymen!".
    • In episode 1.7 Hee-seop feels the need to remind Seong-min that Seong-min only made the National Assembly as an independent candidate in the first place, because the Daehan Party's candidate was brought down in a corruption scandal.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: How Season 1 ends. Tae-joon, concluding that you can't fight The Man and that you can only effect positive change when you become The Man and gain power, surrenders. Hee-seop gets his appointment as minister of justice. Lee Chang-jin and the other corrupt businessmen of the Yong-Gil Group get what they want, which is the demolition of Seobuk Market and the dispossession of all the poor shop owners there. For this, Tae-joon is rewarded with a seat in the National Assembly. The only bad guy who gets any comeuppance at all is Oh, Hee-seop's Smug Snake minion and The Rival to Tae-joon in the office, who is disappointed that he wasn't the one to get nomination for the seat in the assembly.
    • Season 2 proceeds to avert this, when it's revealed that Tae-joon did everything he did, including turning over incriminating evidence to Song and demolishing Seobuk Market, so he could gain power as an assemblyman and take down Song's organization from the inside.
  • Big Bad: Chairman Sung, head of the Yong-Gil Group, the industrial magnate who is the real prime mover behind events. Even after Assemblyman Song is promoted to the Cabinet as Minister of Justice, he still treats Chairman Sung with a very deferential manner. Chairman Sung is also a lot more evil than garden-variety Corrupt Politicians like Minister Song, being perfectly willing to commit murder.
  • Blunt "Yes": An exchange that takes place in episode 1.8, after Hee-seop has tried to make Tae-joon the fall guy for his ethical and criminal lapses, only for Tae-joon to turn the tables with some blackmail material of his own.
    Hee-seop: Are you threatening me?
    Tae-joon: Yes.
  • Car Cushion: How Seong-min dies in episode 1.8, Driven to Suicide, jumping out a window of his office and landing on a car in the lot.
  • Chekhov's Gun: As Seon-yeong's father is being arrested, he tells her that he had the caretaker at the cemetery spruce up her mother's grave, and that she should go visit. Later she figures out that her father hid the files that incriminate Minister Song with the caretaker.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Used many times. Particularly noticeable in episode 1.6 when a silent TV in Lee Seong-min's office erupts into noise to reveal that he is being appointed to the committee that will vote on Song's nomination to be Minister for Justice.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lee Chang-jin, who bulldozes neighborhoods, bribes ministers, covers up industrial accidents with toxic chemicals, and keeps using the toxic chemicals. He's deeply entwined with Minister Song.
  • Corrupt Politician: The National Assembly is ridden with corruption, as assemblymen like Song and Jo curry favors with corrupt businessmen like Lee Chang-jin. In return, they help cover up industrial accidents and happily grease the skids for big redevelopment projects that will fling poor shop owners out of their businesses, while those same corrupt corporations profit.
  • Distant Finale: The end scenes skip forward three months to tie up the storylines.
    • Minister Song and Chairman Sung are going to jail, for 15 and 20 years respectively. Minister Song starts screaming at the judge and has to be dragged out of the courtroom.
    • Chief Prosecutor Choe is working on rooting out the endemic corruption in the prosecution. (Prosecutor Seo, who was working with Minister Song, has been arrested.)
    • Hye-won has left politics and started working as a reporter again. She and Han Do-kyeong meet for what is apparently a first date.
    • Seon-yeong has left the Daehan Party and is running for her reelection as an independent, and seems likely to win.
    • Tae-joon will not face any consequences for some of the underhanded stuff he did to bring down Minister Song, like receiving classified info from the police or hiding the evidence of Assemblyman Jo taking bribes. In fact, as the series ends, he's been hired by the President of South Korea to be Chief of Staff.
  • Dramatic Drop: Hye-won dramatically drops her newspaper in the flashback at the end of episode 1.7. She has just seen a news story that her whistleblower informant attempted suicide and was left in a coma...this coming after her own editor violated a guarantee of anonymity and published the whistleblower's name.
  • Driven to Suicide: Two different characters kill themselves in Season 1. Lee Seong-min finds out that Tae-joon strong-armed some people into giving illegal campaign cash for Seong-min's campaign. Unable to bear the shame, he kills himself. Then in the first-season finale Mr. Go, Seon-yeong's chief of staff, kills himself after Tae-joon sells out and caves to Hee-seop and the industrialists.
  • Dutch Angle: Used many times in moments of high tension. The camera rocks like a boat on the ocean at the beginning of episode 2.7, as various characters hear about the highly suspicious "suicide" of Lee Chang-jin.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch:
    • Inverted with Kim Hyeon-soo, the corrupt chairman of corrupt Bugang Electronics. Hyeon-soo is eating lunch when Tae-joon confronts him, saying that he could face a fine of 100,000-200,000 won ($10K-20K) if he doesn't show up for the hearing in the assembly. Kim sniffs that he spends more than that on liquor, then gets up from his half-eaten lunch and says "You can eat the rest if you didn't eat."
    • Played straight, after a fashion, in episode 1.9. Hee-seop, who publicized the scandal that led Seong-min to kill himself, has the effrontery to show up at Seong-min's funeral and eat from the post-funeral meal. Seon-yeong is appalled.
  • Feet-First Introduction: In the opening credits of the first season, the first shot of Seon-yeong actually shows her high-heeled shoes and shapely calves.
  • Fictional Political Party: The Daehan Party and its rival the Kookmin Party are fictional.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: How Tae-joon wakes up from his coma in episode 2.9, after Chairman Sung's goons nearly killed him. A news report that the prosecution raided Seon-yeong's office was enough to bring him around.
  • Flashback: A flashback in episode 1.2 reveals why Tae-joon quit the police force and went into politics. He was working crowd control at a protest against Bugang Electronics when a SWAT team stormed past him and attacked the protesters. Tae-joon became convinced that politics was the only way to make change.
  • Flipping the Table: In episode 2.5 Minister Song is staging a lunch meeting for Daehan Party VIPs, only for no one to show up, because they're all at a lunch meeting with Tae-joon instead. Song flips his table in a fit of rage.
  • Friend on the Force: Jeong, the police detective and Tae-joon's old friend back from when Tae-joon was a cop. Jeong is an important source of info for Tae-joon throughout both seasons, right up until episode 2.7 when he's arrested.
  • The Ghost: The President of South Korea. He's often discussed, like when Song is talking about getting the president to pick him as Minister of Justice. A few times one of the president's staffers drops by to yell at Minister Song. In the last scene of the series, said staffer meets Tae-joon, says that the president likes him, and says that the president will be calling him and offering him a job as chief of staff. The President is never seen or named.
  • Glasses Pull: The head of the subcommittee, who is a stooge for Minister Song, pulls off his glasses in the season finale when Tae-joon reveals he has the records that show Minister Song and Chairman Sung are constantly in each other's company.
  • Government Procedural: A series revolving around the backstabbing and betrayal amongst members of the National Assembly.
  • Gratuitous English: Oh Won-sik has a daughter studying overseas; occasionally he calls her and insists on talking in English as she needs to work on her English skills. This is played for drama in the last episode when Won-sik, now under arrest and facing jail time, calls his daughter again. He starts out in English but bursts into tears and has to switch to Korean.
  • Handshake Refusal:
    • The dynamic between Jo and Song is demonstrated in the first episode when Jo completely ignores the outstretched hand of Song while Jo is walking to his seat in the Assembly.
    • Choe Gyeong-cheol ignores Lee Chang-jin's outstretched hand in episode 2.3, demonstrating that he is a straight-shooter and won't be a stooge for Minister Song.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: Played with. Kim Hyeon-soo of Bugang Electronics is hauled before a committee in Ep. 1.2...but Assemblyman Jo is in Bugang's pocket and disallows questions. Seon-yeong has to figure out how to get around this. In a later episode, the Minister of Justice has to testify before the audit committee, and when he's caught in a lie, his position opens up for Song Hee-seop.
    • In the series finale Minister Song goes in front of a committee that is filled with his own loyalist stooges, except for Tae-joon himself. Tae-joon manages to trick Song into a lie, which results in Song going to prison.
  • How We Got Here: Season 2 opens with Tae-joon at a garbage dump, being beaten by a gang of club-wielding goons. He's then stabbed and tossed in a ditch. He slowly crawls out of the ditch—only to be confronted by a car bearing down on him. Then the story jumps back to Tae-joon as a newbie assemblyman attending a memorial service with Song Hee-seop. The show catches up to this point at the end of episode 2.8, when we learn that Tae-joon was lured to the dump by Chairman Sung, the Big Bad.
  • Idiot Ball: Tae-joon keeps the flash drive with all the incriminating info about Song in a desk in the office, in a drawer with a flimsy lock, even after he knows that Oh Won-sik knows about that drawer. Sure enough, Oh gets the drawer open, finds the flash drive, and tells Song that Tae-joon has been keeping incriminating material on him.
  • Immediate Sequel: Season 2 starts off less than two months after the end of Season 1, with Song Hee-seop moving to staff the prosecution with his loyalists now that he's become Minister of Justice, and Seon-yeong being unsatisfied with the verdict of suicide in the death of Go Seok-man in the Season 1 finale.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue:
    • In episode 2.2 Hye-won calls Tae-joon and tells him that the prosecution is coming after him again for the issue of corrupt donations to Lee Seong-min's campaign fund. Tae-joon asks her who's in charge of the case. Cue Chief Prosecutor Choe Gyeong-cheol, standing right behind Tae-joon, who introduces himself.
    • In the series finale, Minister Song wonders how his enemies found out he went with Chairman Sung, since he kept all the reporters quiet. Enter Lee Gwi-dong, his chauffeur/flunky, delivering Song's shoes. Minister Song figures out that Lee is the informant.
  • Internal Affairs: The prosecution's form of this comes into play in episode 2.9, when IA comes barreling into Chief Prosecutor Choe Gyeong-cheol's office and puts him on suspension. They're doing the bidding of Minister Song, who is trying to save himself.
  • I've Come Too Far: In episode 1.10 Tae-joon says words the subtitles render as "I've come too far to stop," after he has surrendered to Song and destroyed the incriminating evidence, and in return has gotten the nomination to replace Song as Assemblyman for Song's district.
  • The Last DJ: Assemblyman Lee Seong-min. Unlike all the other cynical weasels in politics, Seong-min is an idealistic crusader. He goes after corrupt Bugang Electronics with a righteous fury. Tae-joon once worked for him, and one of the central stories is whether or not Tae-joon will stay true to Lee's ideals or whether he'll sell out and become a cynic like Song or Jo.
  • Match Cut: From a shot of Song, cheering for himself as he realizes that Tae-joon's latest maneuver will work, to a shot of Song cheering for himself on the floor of the Assembly as he's elected floor leader.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Jo's maneuver in trying to replace Seon-yeong with a TV announcer as party spokesman leads Seon-yeong to switch her support to her boyfriend and Song. She hands over an incriminating document to Jang Tae-joon.
  • The Mole: A sub-plot in Season 2 has the gang realizing that they have a mole inside Tae-joon's office leaking info. Suspicion falls on Yang the new hire, and briefly on No Da-Jeong, the office secretary. The mole is eventually identified as Mr. Jeong, one of the junior staffers.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Do-kyeong the naive intern sometimes needs to have things explained to him (and the audience), like in episode 1.2 when the others have to explain to him that only the senior Assemblymen can stop the inspection.
  • Never Suicide: Season 2 reveals that Go Seok-man, Seon-yeong's chief of staff, didn't actually kill himself. He was murdered on the orders of Chairman Sung, head of the evil conglomerate.
  • Oblivious to Love: Tae-joon has no clue that Hye-won is sweet on him.
  • On the Next: Each episode ends with previews for the next one.
  • Product Placement:
    • Many scenes in both seasons set at a Korean coffee shop called Coffee Bay. Exterior shots show the restaurant's sign, interior shots have actors and actresses holding their mugs to show the logo for the camera, and characters occasionally remark about how good the coffee is.
    • Throughout the first season characters keep drinking Georgia brand bottled coffee and talking about how good it is. There's even a Running Gag about how Mr. Go, Seon-yeong's chief of staff, keeps sneaking bottles of Georgia coffee from the refrigerator in Tae-joon's office.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In episode 1.4 Tae-joon is demoted and sent off to work in the district office after Oh Won-sik wins the power struggle and takes his job. The fall in Tae-joon's status (and the degree to which Assemblyman Song doesn't care about his constituents) is underlined when Tae-joon arrives and finds one bored, apathetic staffer in a filthy office.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Lee Ji-eun, the tough-as-nails staffer for Seon-yeong who is never even mentioned in the first season, but who everyone greets as an an old acquaintance when she shows up in Seon-yeong's office in the Season 2 premiere. She was home on maternity leave.
  • The Rival:
    • Assemblyman Jo for Assemblyman Song. Both of them want the party leadership job, and each is constantly using underhanded tactics to undermine the other.
    • Within Song's office there is Oh Won-sik, who comes in from the district office. He is more willing to do dirty tricks, which is how he gains Song's favor and winds up switching places with Tae-joon, who is Reassigned to Antarctica at the district office.
  • Shameful Strip:
    • Ahn Hyeon-min—the man who leaked the incriminating info about Song Hee-seop to Jo—does this to himself in episode 1.4. After Song says that to get ahead in politics you have to lose your sense of shame, Ahn strips down to his underpants and kneels in front of Song in a gesture of submission.
    • Won-sik does this in 2.8, stripping to his boxers and begging forgiveness from Minister Song for talking to the cops.
  • Ship Tease: There's a running subplot in the first season that dangles romance between Do-kyeong, the newbie intern who keeps casting Longing Looks at Hye-won, while Hye-won grows closer to him even as she remains smitten with their boss Tae-joon. The ship seems to definitely sink in the first season finale. A disgusted Do-kyeong quits employment with Tae-joon after Tae-joon sells out and betrays Seobuk Market, while Hye-won, ever loyal, sticks with her boss.
    • The ship is re-floated in Season 2 when Do-kyeong learns the truth about Tae-joon's motives. At the end of the series he and Hye-won are meeting for a first date.
  • Shout-Out: In episode 1.3 Tae-joon and Seon-yeong meet for a date at some old revival movie theater that is showing, of all things, 1916 American silent film (and Epic Movie) Intolerance. D. W. Griffith's famous Epic Tracking Shot of his gigantic Babylon set is onscreen as the two lovers chat.
  • Smug Snake: Oh Won-sik, who not only is The Rival to Tae-joon for Song's favor and power in the office, but who is a smirking smug asshole about it all the time. When Oh temporarily replaces Tae-joon as chief of staff and gets Tae-joon Reassigned to Antarctica, he smugly says that Tae-joon needs to do something about his stress and gives him a coupon for a spa day.
  • Stealing from the Till: In season 1 Oh Won-sik is caught embezzling from office funds. Assemblyman Song slaps him in the face a few times but keeps him around because Song, himself thoroughly cynical, finds Oh useful as a hatchet man.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Cha Dong-ho, who, in the backstory, revealed a secret slush fund at Bugang Electronics. Episode 1.3 shows that he has become disabled after a suicide attempt and that he and his wife and daughter live in dire poverty.
  • Thanking the Viewer: The second season, and the series, ends with an onscreen title saying "Thank you for watching Chief of Staff Season 2."
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: When told that Oh is meeting Chairman Lee on Song Hee-seop's behalf, Tae-joon says that Song is looking for Chairman Lee's support to become Minister of Justice, then says "Then he'll offer Chairman Lee the floor leader position." Cut to Lee, in a meeting with Oh, saying "Floor leader?". (Episode 1.4)
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment:
    • In episode 1.7 Seon-yeong and Seong-min both have separate conversations with Tae-joon, where they warn him that he's putting too much trust in Assemblyman Song and his allies in the Daehan Party, and they'll throw him overboard. Tae-joon tells them both that he'll do what he has to do to become an assemblyman, and he specifically tells Seong-min that they shouldn't hang out anymore. Naturally, the very next morning all three wind up sharing an uncomfortable elevator ride to the office.
    • The end of Seon-yeong and Tae-joon's relationship is demonstrated in the second-season premiere, when they have to share an elevator trip up, and they ascend in icy silence.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Episode 2.2 ends with Seon-yeong driving in to the parking garage under her apartment building only to find Lee Cheong-min lying in wait. Lee makes a very thinly veiled Shame If Something Happened threat about how she shouldn't be going around unescorted, a threat that becomes even less veiled when Seon-yeong goes up to her apartment and finds that it's been ransacked.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: This is a running thing between Kim Jong-uk, 2nd in command in the office, and No Da-jeong, the secretary. He keeps demanding coffee and she grudgingly fetches it. In one episode Hye-won gets mad on Ms. No's behalf and demands that Jong-uk get his own coffee, but in a later episode he makes a point of asking Ms. No to do it even as Hye-won shoots him a Death Glare.

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